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
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
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?
My hon. Friend makes his point in his own inimitable way. As he knows, I always take the view that people’s votes in this House are a matter for their own honour and their own beliefs.
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 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.
Our aims are clear: we will maintain the closest possible nuclear co-operation with the European Union. That relationship could take a number of different forms, and it will of course be subject to negotiations that will start after we have notified.
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
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.
I thank my right hon. Friend for being generous with his time. Does he not agree that there is no such thing as hard Brexit or soft Brexit? There is just Brexit, and we are going to make a success of it.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the people need to be best 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 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 take it as absolutely 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
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
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
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 be absolutely consulted throughout the process and that their interests should be borne in mind.
I will press on for a minute and then take interventions.
The amendments would also ensure that this House has the first say, not the last say, on the deal proposed at the end of the article 50 negotiations.
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 state 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
I am going to make some progress, given the number of hon. Members who want to come in on this debate.
“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 we stay where we can 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
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 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 from 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 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 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
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,
That 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 followed 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 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 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 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 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 were 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 Michael Gove—and ensure that EU nationals can continue to stay.
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. 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 state of 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.
Order. I referenced earlier the very large number of colleagues wishing to contribute, which I am afraid necessitates the imposition on Back Benchers, with immediate effect, of a six-minute time limit.
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 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 into 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, 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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, 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.
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. She 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 to help those who were displaced as a result of the wars in Syria, Libya and Afghanistan than any other country. 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 next to a US President without seeming to be aware that his nativism, isolationism and protectionism is 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, 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 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
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 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 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 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
My right hon. and learned Friend 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, 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
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 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 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 it 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 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 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.
It was 17 in fact.
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 foreboding place that 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!
Order. Mr Costa, I say to you gently that you should remember the merits of keeping a safe distance.
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 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 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 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.
My friend talks about opportunities for globalisation through Brexit, but for globalisation to occur, somebody needs to reciprocate. Who will be the major reciprocators of the change of attitude that has emerged in the UK in the past six to eight months?
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 from 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, so 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, 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 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—
Order. I have been very generous to the hon. Gentleman, even though he seems blissfully unaware of the fact.
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 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 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
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 Ms Stuart. As a founding MP of the Vote Leave campaign, she played a splendid role—as did 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 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 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.”
“What the British public will be voting for is to leave the EU and leave the single market.”
“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 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 most 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
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 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?
In that regard, I thought that my right hon. Friend Mrs Gillan and one of two others who spoke in similar terms were right. In fact, I know they were right, because I am one of the guilty men. During the referendum campaign, I made it perfectly clear to the many audiences whom I addressed that, in my view—and this is part of the reason why I voted to remain—an inevitable consequence of leaving the EU would be leaving the single market, we would have to reassert our control of the borders that would be incompatible with the single market, we would seek to negotiate with the rest of the world, and therefore we would have to leave the customs union. I made it perfectly clear that we might find ourselves unable to negotiate a free trade agreement—because that takes two sides, and it is impossible for one side to guarantee what the other side will do—and that therefore we might have to fall back on the WTO, which I think would be greatly to the disadvantage of this country.
I made all that clear, so it seems to me, when it comes to the question of the democratic mandate, that the people who voted to leave were voting with their eyes wide open, knowing that the consequence might be our falling back on the WTO. I should add, to be fair, that the leave campaign—or, at least, the more responsible and sensible people in the leave campaign—made that perfectly clear as well. It seems to me that, both as a matter of legal fact and in the context of a democratic mandate, there is an extraordinarily strong argument for believing that when we vote tomorrow night we shall be taking an irrevocable step, which should not lead Parliament to be under any illusion that at a later date it can go back to remaining if it chooses, and if it does not like the deal.
The third and, I think, overwhelming point is this: in the end, what matters most is the fate of our country. All these arguments are just arguments, but the fate of our country is a real thing that affects the men and women living in it. The truth is that the negotiating hand that our Government have will largely determine whether, in the event, we secure a comprehensive free trade deal of the kind that the Prime Minister rightly seeks. I know of no fact more certain than that if the House were to suggest to our counterparties in the EU 27 that we might decide at a later date that, if the deal offered to us was bad enough, we would prefer to remain, they would offer us the worst deal they could think of. It would be an inevitable consequence of their wanting to keep us in—and, although I do not know exactly why, many of our EU 27 counterparties do want to keep us in—that they would best achieve that by offering the worst deal possible if they knew that Parliament might then vote to remain.
I therefore think that we in the House have a very solemn duty to make it abundantly clear—not just to the people in this country, but to the EU 27—that tomorrow night’s vote will be an irrevocable act. We must make it clear that we are taking a step from which we cannot go back; that if those countries want a proper deal that is in the mutual interest, they should offer it; and that if we do not get that deal we will leave, because we have triggered article 50 and we will be out, and we will have to cope with the consequences thereafter. That makes tomorrow night’s vote one of the most important that we shall ever take in the House, and I take it with some doubt and hesitation, but I take it because I believe that, ultimately, the will of the people has been expressed.
I find myself in the invidious position of agreeing with virtually everything that was said by Mr Clarke, and with virtually everything that has been said by my hon. Friends who intend to vote against the Bill’s Second Reading tomorrow evening. I differ from them in one respect only: I do not think it is possible for me, as a democratically elected Member of Parliament who entered into the referendum process having accepted that we were going to have a referendum, then to tell the public that somehow I know better, and that I am not going to honour the outcome of that referendum.
I will vote in favour of triggering article 50 for that reason, but also because I do not want the Conservatives, every time I challenge them over the process and every time I challenge them to come back to the House to be held accountable for what they are negotiating on behalf of this country, to turn around and say that I am seeking to second-guess the outcome of the referendum. They must be accountable to the House for what they are doing.
There are some questions to be asked about whether members of the Government are acting in our best interests. We had the spat with the Italian Economic Development Minister over whether Italy would be hurt by selling less prosecco to the UK, where he turned around and said, “We may sell a little less prosecco, but that’ll be happening in one country, while you’ll be selling less to 27 countries.” We had the comments of the Foreign Secretary over freedom of movement as a founding principle of the European Union, where he used a very unfortunate word in an interview with a Czech newspaper and said it is a “total myth” and “nonsense” to say it is a “founding principle”. He may well believe that that is true, but that is not the way to go about negotiating with people who are going to have an important say over future trade agreements for this country. Then, when it came to the meeting about the outcome of the American presidential election, he spoke down to the people attending a meeting specially convened to discuss that, and said:
“I would respectfully say to my beloved European friends and colleagues”.
What sort of language is that to use—talking down to the very people we want to co-operate with us in future negotiations? He also went on to describe Donald Trump as
“a liberal guy from New York”.
He may well be rethinking that one.
The Government have clearly shown that they are not to be trusted with these negotiations without having oversight from this House of Commons. We must have a say in this process. I will be voting to trigger article 50, and I have heard speeches from the Government Benches where Members have said that they also want to have a say over the process here in Parliament. I hope that we will see them voting on amendments to ensure that that actually takes place in the three days of debates we will have next week.
I have heard all the talk about a brave new world that is going to open up for us under the World Trade Organisation, but people do not seem to be respecting the fact that there are rules, regulations and tariffs to be negotiated with the World Trade Organisation. In fact, it is highly likely that our easiest way into the World Trade Organisation is to take as a package all the agreements that we have under the EU and adopt them under the WTO; that is the easiest way possible to avoid all sorts of challenges to the UK.
Incidentally, we do not have the teams of lawyers, accountants and officials who are used to dealing with these sorts of negotiations to act on our behalf. We are opening up all these negotiations without having the expertise in place. The Government have repeatedly been asked questions about building up these Departments and the expertise: where are the experts who are used to negotiating on behalf of the UK? They are all in Europe; they have been doing it at a European level, and they are not here. We are going to have to do that at several levels—over article 50, over future trade agreements and over trade agreements through the WTO.
What is going to happen with those countries who have vested interests, like Spain, who might want to use this vulnerability of the UK to open up negotiations about Gibraltar? If we go into the World Trade Organisation, would Argentina start to challenge agreements with the UK to open up negotiations about the future of the Falklands Islands?
This is the reality of international trade agreements; this is the real world that we are going to be moving into. The idea that we can just fall out of Europe and fall into the World Trade Organisation with absolutely no consequences is folly. That is why this House of Commons has got to have a say over the process and scrutinise in detail what this Government are doing on behalf of this country. We as Members of Parliament have a duty to do that, and the Government should not stand in the way of democratic accountability in this House under the guise of saying, “You’re trying to renegotiate the outcome of the referendum.” That is not true, but that does not mean they cannot avoid accountability. I hope the Government will accept an amendment on that basis so that we do bring sovereignty back here to this House of Commons.
May I begin by saying how grateful I am, and I am sure many other Members are, to both the High Court and the Supreme Court for their rulings which ensure that this Bill comes in front of the House of Commons today? As has been pointed out by our judges, not least by Lord Justice Laws in the “metric martyrs” case, the original European Communities Act 1972 was a constitutional statute of such significance that it and its provisions can only be changed by legislation, and I am glad that the Government have brought forward this Bill. The 1972 Act is so significant because, uniquely, it allows laws made outside this House to have a direct effect on the law of this land. That means that laws that are framed, designed and shaped by individuals whom we have never elected and whom we cannot remove have a sovereign ability to dictate what is legal and illegal in this House.
I have listened with respect and interest to all those, including Clive Efford, who have stressed the importance of parliamentary scrutiny, but where were they in the period between 1972 and now, when literally thousands of laws were imposed on the people of this country not only without scrutiny but without debate, without votes and without the possibility of amendment or rejection? I have to say that those people are pretty late coming to the democratic party now.
In talking about democracy, it is vital, as was pointed out in the brilliant speech by my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin, that we do not attempt to revisit the decision that the British people made last year. I thought it was instructive that the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, Mr Clegg, was so dismissive of the result and of the debate during the referendum campaign. A previous leader of the Liberal Democrat party said on referendum night:
“In. Out. When the British people have spoken you do what they command. Either you believe in democracy or you don’t. When democracy speaks we obey. All of us do…Any people who retreat into ‘we’re coming back for a second one’—they don’t believe in democracy.”
It is a tragedy that the party that is called Liberal Democrat is scarcely liberal and, now, anti-democratic.
It would be harmful for our democracy at a time when we are all concerned about the rise of raucous populism—[Interruption.] I note the response from Scottish National party Members, who are the prime traders in raucous populism and the politics of division. If we were now to reject the considered decision of 17.4 million of our fellow citizens, we would only feed the disaffection with the democratic process that has led to unfortunate results in other countries. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset was right when he said that we should respect the result and honour the mandate.
A number of people are now asking for White Papers, scrutiny and greater clarity, but we have already had the promise of a White Paper, and a 6,000-word speech from our Prime Minister. We have had clarity in all these issues. Those people will not take yes for an answer; they are seeking not clarity but obfuscation, delay and a dilution of the democratic mandate of the British people.
A 6,000-word speech from my right hon. Friend would be a very short speech. I want to challenge him on the issue of the White Paper. He and many others who campaigned and voted to leave want to take back control. They want control to rest in this sovereign Parliament. Does he agree, therefore, that it is right that the terms on which the Government want to start the negotiations should be presented in a White Paper to this Parliament and not just in a speech at Lancaster House?
The Prime Minister has already agreed that a White Paper will be published, and rightly so. The Secretary of State has said from the Dispatch Box that it will come as soon as possible. I have enormous respect for my right hon. Friend Nicky Morgan, and I shall return in a moment to an argument that she has made outside this place.
Many of those who have called for a White Paper or for clarification rarely outline what they think the right course of action is. It is very rare to hear a positive case being put forward. Instead, we repeatedly hear attempts to rewrite what happened in the referendum. Margaret Beckett tried to present the referendum debate as though it had somehow been inconclusive on questions such as our membership of the single market or the customs union, but, as my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset said, we could not have been clearer on behalf of the leave campaign that we were leaving the single market. It was also made perfectly clear that we could not have trade deals in the future without leaving the customs union.
Will my right hon. Friend please assure us that he will be true to his claim, as a leader of the leave campaign, that £350 million a week will now be going into our NHS? Or does he agree with others who say that that figure was always false and that that was a lie?
I have no idea whether the word “lie” is unparliamentary, but as someone who is not in the Government I cannot deliver such sums. What I can do, however, is consistently argue, as I have done, that when we take back control of the money that we currently give to the European Union we can invest that money in the NHS. In fact, it was the consistent claim of the leave campaign, as my right hon. Friend well knows, that we wished to give £100 million to the NHS—some of the money that we were going to take back control of—and also spend money on supporting science and ensuring that we could get rid of VAT on fuel, something which we cannot do while we are still a member of the European Union.
I have repeatedly argued that we should ensure that that money is spent on our NHS and on other vital public services when we leave the European Union. That goes to the heart of the fair challenge issued by Hilary Benn and by Keir Starmer, the Opposition spokesman: how do we ensure that the views of the 52%, which were clear, unambiguous and to which this legislation gives effect, and the views of the 48% who did not vote to leave are respected? The 48% are represented at the highest levels of Government. We have a Prime Minister and a Chancellor who voted to remain in the European Union, so it is not as though those views are ignored or marginal.
My challenge and my offer is that we ensure that the Brexit we embrace is liberal, open and democratic. For my part, that means more money to the NHS, but it also means embracing the principles outlined by my right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough in a recent “ConservativeHome” article. It means, as Ms Stuart said, giving an absolute unilateral guarantee to EU citizens that they should stay here. It also means having a free trade policy liberated from the common external tariff, allowing us to lower trade barriers to developing nations and to help the third world to advance. It means exercising a leadership role on the world stage at a time when European Union politicians are increasingly naive or appeasing in their attitude towards Vladimir Putin. It means that we can stand tall, as the Prime Minister did, in making the case for collective western security and NATO. Those opportunities are all available to us as we leave the European Union. The challenge for the Opposition and the opportunity for us is to ensure that we make that positive case.
Within the London Borough of Wandsworth, which contains my constituency, small businesses have been booming, and the previous Prime Minister and a member of the Government’s Treasury team—[Interruption.] Basically, last year, the Prime Minister said that businesses were booming due to access to the single market. Does the right hon. Gentleman deny that?
Order. Before I call Emma Reynolds, may I appeal to Members to have some regard for the conventions of this place? I realise that Dr Allin-Khan, although incredibly bright, is very new to the House, but if one intervenes on a Member, one must do so with some regard to their moral entitlement to have time to reply, which Michael Gove did not.
I certainly remember the Vote Leave campaign bus that promised £350 million a week for the NHS, which we unfortunately saw on our TV screens night in, night out, but I digress in following Michael Gove.
I campaigned to remain in the EU, but I accept the result of the referendum and will vote for this Bill tomorrow. The leader of the Liberal Democrats calls that cowardly; I call it democracy. We held a national referendum. Those of us on the remain side might not like the result, but we have to accept it. It was close, but it was clear—and it was clear in my constituency. However, that does not mean that the Government get a free pass, and it does not mean that if I strive to hold them to account, I am an enemy of the people. After all, the Government are accountable to this place and have already made some major errors not just on the substance of these negotiations, but on the tone. For example, it is the height of irresponsibility for the Foreign Secretary to choose to pick needless fights with our EU counterparts when we are about to embark on one of the most complicated and sensitive negotiations in our history. His focus, like ours, should be on securing the best deal for the UK and the rest of the EU.
For me, today’s debate is not about whether we leave the EU, but about how this House holds the Government to account at every stage of the process and makes sure that they secure the best deal for the UK. After all, a bad deal or no deal could have catastrophic results for our economy, for jobs, for investment and for the living standards of the people we represent.
The hon. Lady mentioned the vote. To paraphrase Dr Lewis, the people of my country—the people of my nation—voted to remain, and I will be voting accordingly.
The referendum in Scotland a couple of years ago was lost by the SNP. We are one country, and this was a national referendum.
I wish to make three brief points. First, we must have meaningful parliamentary scrutiny of the process. We are debating the Bill only because the Supreme Court upheld parliamentary sovereignty, which Eurosceptics have lectured us about throughout the decades but seem to think that we can give up on this issue. Giving MPs the opportunity to vote on and scrutinise the Government’s plans at the very start and the very end of the process is not good enough. We are not here simply to rubber-stamp the Government’s plans and, as my right hon. Friend Hilary Benn so eloquently put it, we are not passive bystanders. We should be active participants in this process. After all, our Parliament represents every corner of our country and this Government do not.
The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, who used to be a great champion of parliamentary sovereignty back in the day, said in this House on
“The simple truth is that there will be any number of votes—too many to count—in the next two years across a whole range of issues.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 620, c. 168.]
On that day I asked him whether Members of this House would get a vote either before or at the same time as the European Parliament. He claimed that he had not thought about that, which was rather odd, and kindly agreed to write to me. I am still waiting for his letter.
Mr Grieve forcefully made the point that we cannot just have a vote at the end of this process, when we could be left with a choice of no deal or leaving. In his winding-up speech tomorrow, I would like the Minister to tell us whether this House will have a vote prior to the European Parliament’s vote on that stage of the negotiation. I hope that one of the amendments on that point will be agreed to.
Secondly, the Government must deliver the best economic deal and be clear about what it means. They must level with the British people about the risks to our economy. I understand that they have ruled out membership of the European single market. The Prime Minister says that her priority is tariff-free trade, but the benefits of the single market go way beyond a traditional free trade agreement. The single market is a vast factory floor with integrated supply chains, and goods and services move seamlessly across borders. As Mr Clarke said, regulatory barriers matter more than tariffs in the modern world, especially in advanced economies like our own. That is why businesses and business organisations are calling for regulatory stability, and I would like to hear more from the Government about that.
One of the most alarming prospects raised by the Prime Minister in her Lancaster House speech was that she was prepared to settle for no deal. What is a worse deal than no deal? I am struggling to understand why we would want to choose to fall back on WTO rules and tariffs. As my hon. Friend Clive Efford said so eloquently, that would be catastrophic and would involve huge risks to jobs, investment and our constituents’ prosperity.
Thirdly, and finally, I agree with hon. Members who have said that the Government should unilaterally guarantee the rights of EU nationals, as that would create good will in the negotiations and ensure that our nationals in other EU member states get the same treatment, but I also believe the Government should put forward a preferential and managed migration system within these negotiations. The Government are wrong to assume that free trade deals are just about trade. When the Prime Minister went to India, what did the Indian Government want to talk about? They wanted to talk about visas for their business people and for their students. To secure the best possible economic deal, the Government must put forward proposals that give EU workers preference, but we should also have a system that controls the numbers. That is why I, along with my hon. Friend Stephen Kinnock, have proposed a two-tier system that would retain free movement for highly skilled workers, but put in place controls for low-skilled and semi-skilled workers. I hope that the Government will start to give Parliament a meaningful say on this process.
I suspect and fear that the process we are about to vote on will, in effect, close a lengthy chapter in our national history that has included our support of enlargement, and that has seen sustained growth in our economy, our country becoming more liberal and our being more active in the international field. That is a great problem to have to deal with, and historians will ask in years to come: why did we do this? We have to make sure that we understand the gravity of the situation and the seriousness of our decision. I campaigned very hard to stay in the EU, both in my own constituency, where I got 55% to say yes, and across the country. However, I did say that this was the decision and it was the decision that mattered, so I feel duty bound to recognise that I have to support article 50 this week, although I do so with a very, very heavy heart.
I want to say something about trade. There seems to be this idea that because we are in the EU we cannot trade elsewhere, but that is wrong. Germany, France, Italy, Poland and Spain all export to the rest of the world precisely because they are in the EU and because we have free trade agreements with the rest of the world. Let us be clear that all such agreements will have to be remade by us.
If, as my hon. Friend supposes, the EU has been so successful at putting in place trade deals, how is that Switzerland has been able to set up many more trade deals than the EU has managed over the years?
It is worth bearing in mind that the EU accounts for almost a quarter of the world’s GDP and is involved in a huge amount of trade. That is a signal of why it is important for us to bear in mind what the EU has done for us.
I now want to talk about the 48% of people who voted to remain, because it is crucial that they are properly represented in this process. When we elect a Government in a general election, we do not expect them to govern just for one bit of the country; we expect them to govern for the whole country, in regard of every aspect of our national life. I do the same in my constituency. I do not ask whether someone voted for me before I start dealing with them; I say, “You are one of my constituents, whoever you voted for.” That is how we have to deal with this business about Brexit. We must recognise that the 48% have a say and should be included, because that is how we are going to bring this together. We need to open things up and make sure that we reach out to them. Those of us who were in the 48% need to reach out to the others. When we are looking at the great repeal Bill—we should recall what happened to the Conservative party when we looked at the Great Reform Act—we will discover one or two important things about our national life, as we find that we are not always being told by the EU to do things that we do not want to do. I am look forward to the opportunity of exposing the facts during that debate, because Brexiteers will be disappointed to discover that quite a lot of things that we supposedly want to repeal are actually things that we might want to retain.
On the point about being told what to do, was the hon. Gentleman astonished by the speech made by Sammy Wilson, who is no longer in the Chamber? He said that the feeling in Northern Ireland was that the EU was telling people there what to do, and that that was a terrible thing, but that the fact that Northern Ireland is being told by the UK to leave the EU is seemingly okay. The idea of who is telling whom to do what seems to a shape-shifting one.
I usually find that when I am telling somebody to do something they do not want to do, I get the blame, and if I suggest something that they do want to do, it was their idea in the first place. That is how we should remember this. When we look back on our history, we will see that that was absolutely right with regard to the European Union.
I wish to talk about events. Harold Macmillan was a great one for events, and we face two years of important events, some of which will be unpleasant and some quite surprising. I cannot predict what they will be, but the Government do have to react carefully to them, because they will involve changes in the economic mood and international policy situations that require a response above and beyond what we are focusing on with Brexit. We must remember that events will provide opportunities for a more sensible view about how we direct our Brexit negotiations and sense of purpose. Parliament must have a significant say in how we proceed because such events will affect this country, our judgment, the negotiations and the overall outcome. The place to discuss and properly debate these things is Parliament, not press releases. Parliament is the national place for such decisions.
The fact that we cannot leave Europe geographically is critical. We are only a few miles away from the European continent, so we will always need to have good relationships with it and the 27 member states. I urge the Government—and everyone—to make sure that over the next two years those relationships are built on and strengthened. We do not want to find ourselves in a situation in which we do not have these friendships and alliances. Why? Because Europe itself will change, and we want to be part of that, driving it forward to even greater and better things. If we play our cards right, that will offer us the opportunity to think about, for example—I am just speculating—associate membership. We must not turn our back on the opportunities that might present themselves, which is why I am so keen that Parliament has a strong role and that, over the next two years, we think about possible events and opportunities, and retain and strengthen our relationships in Europe.
It is, of course, essential that Parliament has a final say when we get to the endgame, if we actually do. It is not only necessary to talk about voting on whether we have a deal or no deal; it is important that we have a view about where we go if a satisfactory deal does not emerge, or if no deal emerges at all. We must have a contribution to make. It is not correct to say that the European Union is hellbent on making our life a misery. Everybody knows that we are interdependent—we know that and it knows that, and it is important for us to accept that as a Parliament and as a country.
I am going to borrow a very good phrase from one of my constituents: “You shouldn’t jump out of an aeroplane without checking that the parachute is working.” That is what we will have to consider as we head towards the final moments in two years. We must think about how we incorporate in our decision the views of not only the 52%, but the 48%. We must think about the opportunities that may arise from events, as well as threats that might emerge, and we must maintain good relationships. Above all, we must recognise that this Parliament is sovereign; it always has been, and that is what we have to salute.
It is a pleasure to follow a thoughtful contribution from Neil Carmichael.
A Government who were confident in what they were doing and confident that they were pursuing the right ends would have had no difficulty in engaging with Parliament. In fact, they would have welcomed the opportunity. What we saw instead was a Government and a Prime Minister hiding from Parliament and the democratic processes on which good governance is built. They were forced into coming to the House and doing the right thing only because they were dragged before the courts, defeated, and defeated again by campaigners holding up the principle of parliamentary democracy as something to which the Government should bow. I, too, would like to take this opportunity to thank those democracy campaigners—I single out Gina Miller in particular—for their contribution, which, as I have mentioned before, will have long-lasting effects on this and other issues.
This Bill—these few paragraphs, this poor excuse for legislation—has been wrung out of the Government, and its brevity is childish and disrespectful to this place, the courts and the people whose representatives come here on their behalf. The Government should be ashamed of themselves. The suggestion is that no preparation was done by the Government in advance of the Court judgment—not even when the judgment was going back to appeal without much hope of success. That would smack of the same kind of arrogant laziness that marked the approach of David Cameron’s Government to the referendum. There was no preparation; they just winged it and hoped. After hearing Members from the Government Benches, I am shocked that they do not think that the people should be entitled to know what the plan is. People like to mention the independence referendum very often: in Scotland, we debated the details for two years. In this place, the Government still do not what the details are two months before kick-off.
A clear indication of the lack of preparation is the attitude that the Government have struck towards the devolved Administrations, promising consultation and open dialogue, but delivering little—almost nothing. The Scottish Government, who have put some thought into how to proceed, offered some constructive suggestions but had nothing in return other than a promise that the paper that they presented would be read. There was no real engagement, no dialogue, no offer to discuss the negotiations as they go along, and no offer of a seat at the negotiating table for Scottish Ministers. That is what a United Kingdom Government would offer if they were serious about taking the devolved Administrations with them and if they were confident of their ground.
Scotland and Wales have particular reasons to be anxious about what the UK Government are doing in Europe, but Northern Ireland, despite the warm words of Mr Paterson, has more reason than most to worry. The prospect of a return to a hard border is horrendous for communities and businesses in Northern Ireland and any threat to the common travel area extremely serious. The Government’s attitude to date seems to be an approach that says that everything will be fine, that Northern Ireland has always been treated as a special case by the EU and will be treated so again. That ignores the fact that it was treated as a special case while it was part of the EU. There are no guarantees that any EU institution or member state will feel like giving special dispensation to Northern Ireland. If there is a case to be made there, it may only be by the grace and good will of the Irish Government that it is made.
The UK is approaching Brexit in the same way that this Bill was made—with hope, arrogance, swagger, disdain and, frankly, nothing in its pockets. There is nothing on offer to our European partners because the arrogant assumption of this Government and of the Brexiteers around them is that the EU needs the UK more than the UK needs the EU, and that London is the epicentre of world trade, which means that the EU’s financial institutions will come begging rather than firms move staff to the EU.
I thank the hon. Member for giving way. She is absolutely right to raise the matter of the Irish border. If I were living in the Irish Republic, I would be greatly concerned that my single largest trading partner—the USA—is not in the EU and, pretty soon, my other single largest trading partner—the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—will not be in the EU either. The Republic should be getting out along with us.
Yes, indeed; maintaining a close trading relationship with Northern Ireland will of course be in the best interests of the UK, whether or not it is in Europe, and it is the same with Europe as well.
Let me return to my point about the Government believing that the EU’s financial institutions will come begging rather than firms moving staff to the EU. That is how it appears and how it will continue to appear, because this legislation, perhaps the most important constitutional legislation considered by this House in 40 years, has come without a White Paper or an intelligible Government position. It has come without a manifesto commitment and without preparation. This Bill cannot be entrusted to carry the intent of this House, because this House does not know the intent of the Government in leading negotiations with the 27 other EU states. What does the trading agreement they seek look like? Does it give us full access to the market? What about the movement of people between EU countries and the UK? We hear a constant barrage of comments about taking back control of immigration, but nothing about how those controls will be exercised. We know neither the starting position nor the hoped-for end effects of the triggering of article 50. We saw a supposed 12-point plan recently, but frankly that looked more like a wish list. In the great field of evidence-based policy making, this Bill does not figure. The devolved Administrations on these islands have been operating without knowing what position the UK Government are taking, each trying to find some kind of satisfactory rescue for their people, but all hampered by the UK Government.
I should be astonished that the Government are seeking to take the UK out of the EU with this pitiful “dog ate my homework” excuse for a Bill and I should be shocked that most of the loyal Opposition are not opposing it, but I am not. We have come to expect nothing more from this clueless, rudderless Government and this apparently fratricidal official Opposition. The SNP will not support the triggering of article 50. We believe that Scotland’s place is in the EU and we are here to speak up for Scotland’s best interests. I hope that enough Members on the Government and Labour Benches have the character to join us in the Lobby, but I am not holding my breath.
This is an historic day. I participated in the campaign and fought hard for us to leave the European Union. I was too young to vote in the first referendum in 1975—[Interruption.] My birth certificate will be available for viewing later. I was too young, so this, 43 years later, was the first referendum on Europe in which I had an opportunity to vote. My hon. Friend Neil Carmichael said that when someone is jumping out of an aeroplane, they should make sure that the parachute is working; I prefer the adage “if at first you don’t succeed, skydiving isn’t for you”.
On this occasion, the British people knew exactly what they were doing. It was a hard fought campaign. We heard all the arguments for remaining, which were characterised as “Project Fear”. I am really pleased that the vast majority of what was predicted has simply not happened.
The hon. Gentleman says that the British people knew exactly what they were doing. I have great respect for him, as he knows, but the International Trade Committee, on which he and I sit, has had sitting after sitting trying to work out what it is all going to mean. I am amazed that everybody knew everything before, given all those sittings. I find those two ideas rather incongruous.
It was said that a number of things would happen when we left the European Union. I suspect that the reality is that many were somewhat surprised that the British people had the guts: despite what they were told was going to happen, they still decided to vote to leave the European Union. I remember the then Prime Minister appearing on television and saying that if we voted to leave, we would also be leaving the single market—he actually said that on the “Marr” programme just a couple of weeks prior to the referendum on
I will make a bit more progress if I may.
Despite all those threats, the British people decided that, in their considered opinion, they wanted to vote to leave the European Union. About 57% of my constituents voted to leave—all the Lancashire constituencies, in fact, voted to leave the European Union. In the north-west of England, on a 70% turnout—not a thin turnout— 54% decided to vote to leave. That reminds me of the referendum on Welsh devolution. The turnout was 50.1%, 49.7% of whom said no and 50.3% of whom said yes. And what did we do? We did not shout for a second referendum. We did not even call for a recount. Is it too late? The fact is that we accepted the result on a thin turnout and a very close result indeed, and that is what is expected of us on this occasion.
I condemn the pamphlet that was sent to every household in the country at the cost of £9.3 million. I was one of the people who did not send it back to No. 10 Downing Street without a stamp; I kept it as a souvenir. The back of it read:
“This is your decision. The Government will implement what you decide.”
Therefore, if we believe in democracy, the onus is on us to accept the verdict of the British people—52% versus 48%—and give the Prime Minister the power to trigger article 50.
I fully recognise the trauma felt by many European Union citizens who live and work in this country, thinking they could be asked to leave. The idea that we will round up EU nationals and put them on the next Ryanair or easyJet flight back to whichever country they came from is bonkers. That would be quite despicable, and we ought to clarify as quickly as possible that we will not ask that of them.
EU citizens are a vital part of our community. They work in our communities. Many of us are married to them, and they are our friends, families and colleagues. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we should give these people, who have contributed so much, legal certainty, as soon as possible?
I totally agree with the hon. Lady. I also have cognisance of the British people who happen to live in the south of Spain, or who work and live in Madrid, Frankfurt and various other parts of the European Union. They are going through the same trauma that EU citizens are going through here.
I will not because I do not have time.
As I understand it, the Prime Minister has already made it clear that as soon as the rest of the EU says yes—whether President Juncker or someone else makes the decision—regarding British citizens in the EU, that is exactly what will happen for EU citizens living here. It is cruel and inhumane for the Commission to say that it will not clarify its position until we trigger article 50 and the negotiations begin, as if human beings should be pawns in the negotiation. If that position is kept up, I ask the Government to ensure that this matter is the first thing negotiated in the process. As soon as the agreement comes, we should announce it straight away and we should let people know our exact intention, not wait until the two-year process is finished. That is the humane thing to do. The prospect of Germany, which has taken in 1 million refugees from the middle east, rounding up British citizens and sending them home is a remarkable thought and it would be a remarkable sight. The situation must be clarified as quickly as possible.
In conclusion, I believe in democracy and I actually love Europe. I love my European neighbours and I visit on a regular basis. I am a member of the Council of Europe. Indeed, I was at one of its part-sessions in Strasbourg last week. But the British people have voted to leave the European Union. It is a simple choice. Those who are going to deny the verdict of the British people appear to love the EU more than they love democracy, and that is a dangerous thing.
I quite enjoyed the speech by Mr Evans until the last bit.
Today we debate not just this shortest of short Bills but our intention to set in train enormous constitutional, legal, political, social and economic changes for our country. Yet this was a debate the Government did not want us to have. They had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the highest court in the land and ordered to give this sovereign Parliament a say, taken there by a brave woman who is now receiving death threats for her trouble. The Government tried to claim that taking back control meant the revival of government by diktat using the royal prerogative—an abuse that the civil war was fought to eliminate.
Literally everything we have legislated for in the past 40 years through the EU is now up for grabs: rights at work, health and safety, environmental standards, regulation, consumer rights, food standards, and trading rules.
With regard to this list of all the rights that we are going to lose, allegedly, or that those who wish to remain in the EU think we are going to lose, why can we not make all these decisions in this place, for our country, for the benefit of our people? We do not need other people to make our rules.
When we joined the European Union we pooled parts of our sovereignty so that we could have a bigger bang for the buck that we spent, particularly on issues such as the environment. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has noticed, but pollution does not stop at national borders.
The most hallucinatory of the Eurosceptic nostalgics in the Tory party dream of a frictionless divorce with no real consequences, economic or otherwise—a trade deal swiftly done which grants the UK all the benefits of EU membership with none of the costs. Some of them even imagine a new mercantilist British empire, forgetting that times have almost certainly moved on. They are content to gamble with 50% of our trade and 100% of our prosperity.
I argued passionately against the isolationist leave side in the referendum, and fought back against the alternative facts and magical thinking that underlay many of the arguments put forward by the other side. I especially disapproved of the downright lies on the NHS cynically perpetrated by the leading lights of the leave campaign and repudiated by them on the day after their victory. Who will ever forget that bus, now a byword for cynical manipulation? As it happens, the Wirral voted narrowly in favour of remaining—a tribute to its good judgment, along with its record of returning a full deck of Labour MPs at the last general election.
But we are where we are, and it is undoubtedly the case that the country as a whole voted 52:48 to leave. The referendum split the country down the middle. A Government interested in building a decent future for our country would have sought to bring us together, but this Government have done the opposite. They have chosen to interpret the results of the referendum as a victory for Nigel Farage’s very own version of “Little Britain”. First there were the xenophobic speeches at Tory conference announcing the creation of lists of foreign workers, then the months of confusion about the nature of the Government’s plan, then the Prime Minister’s speech, and finally a promised, but as yet unpublished, White Paper.
If she does not get her way in Europe, the Prime Minister has threatened to create a low-regulation Britain with fewer human, civil and workers’ rights guaranteed in law, unmaking decades of social progress. That is unacceptable to Labour Members and I believe it is unacceptable to the British public. The narrow majority of British voters who cast their ballots for Britain to leave the EU did not, to a person, have in their mind’s eye a libertarian fantasy state as their end goal. They were told they could expect, and they voted for, more money for crucial services, and sensible controls on immigration. In reality, they continue to get massive cuts to the NHS, policing, local services and schools, as this Government’s austerity cuts continue to decimate our public services and care for the elderly.
I fully endorse the amendments tabled in the name of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition—they would make the best of this difficult situation—but I know that Opposition amendments, no matter how sensible, rarely get accepted by the Government, especially this Government, who seem obsessed with bringing about the most extreme Brexit possible. Labour will fight to get the best possible Brexit deal.
I surveyed members in Wallasey this past weekend, and I received responses from a substantial number of them. To the hundreds who responded I say thank you for shaping my approach to this most difficult of votes. A huge majority thought that the Bill would make them and their families worse off. Just over half thought that we should engage but beware of the Government’s motives, and that we should give the Government authorisation to proceed only once we had guarantees on workers’ rights and tariff-free access to the single market.
As democratic politicians, we have to recognise the result of the referendum, but that does not give the Government carte blanche for an extreme Brexit. It does not give the Government permission to destroy the social settlement and make our society poorer and even more precarious. Labour’s amendments guaranteeing rights at work, equality rights and the environmental standards that we take for granted now are crucial if the Bill is to be acceptable and to help to bring our divided country together.
Rather than presenting the House with the most perfunctory Bill possible, I wish the Government had wanted to engage and involve Parliament in what will be the most crucial project we have undertaken in generations. I wish we had a Government who wanted to grant meaningful votes and real influence to Parliament rather than simply trying to reduce parliamentary sovereignty to a take-it-or-leave-it rubber stamp.
We swap the known for the unknown in one of the most volatile political eras that I have experienced in my lifetime. We throw away established relationships and economic connections, including deeply integrated European supply chains and cultural affinities. We alienate our closest allies in perilous times. We have a divided and angry country. Social injustice and poverty are soaring, and many regions are being neglected. I am in politics to defend them, and defend them I will.
Last year, as Minister for Life Sciences, I voted for the EU referendum on the basis that I would be bound by the result. Despite watching over many years with a heaviness of heart the growing failure of the EU to create an entrepreneurial economy, on balance I felt that we were better off staying in to fight for a reformed, 21st-century EU. As Life Sciences Minister responsible for a £250 billion sector, I felt that I had to speak for its interests. So I campaigned, along with many colleagues, for remain, not in a bullying way but in an open way.
I actively offered my constituents a choice by inviting my hon. Friend Mr Baker and my friend Mr Carswell to my constituency to put their side of the debate. We held the debate, and I lost it. Our constituents voted to leave the European Union. My constituents voted, and the country voted, in one of the biggest acts of democracy we have seen for centuries.
As my right hon. Friend Anna Soubry said, we are not delegates. As Edmund Burke said, we are not sent here to be slaves to our constituents. I believe that the one thing that parliamentarians should never give away is the sovereignty vested in us by the people we serve. The truth is that successive Parliaments in recent decades have done that, not least in the Maastricht and the Lisbon treaties, fuelling public anger and disillusionment and the sense of unaccountable political elites giving away powers that were never theirs in the first place. That is why I believe we were right to give the people their say and we are right—all of us—to recognise the importance of that vote and the anger that was expressed.
Since my hon. Friend mentions our debate, I hope that he will not mind my saying that he fought the fight with great nobility and grace, and he was eloquent at all times. If only both sides of the campaign—I do mean both sides—had conducted themselves as he did, the referendum campaign would have been far happier.
I thank my hon. Friend for that gracious intervention. Having won sovereignty back for this House, we must use it. We must show that the House is worthy of that sovereignty and capable of acting in the interests of all the people we serve. Churchill said once:
“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak;
courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”
In the referendum campaign, we all stood up and spoke passionately for our respective sides, but now is the time for us to do the other courageous thing and listen to the will of the British people.
We have to make Brexit work for the 48% as well as the 52%, for London as well as the north, for white-collar as well as blue-collar workers and for Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England. We need to deliver not a soft or a hard Brexit but a British Brexit, which allows us to respect our European neighbours, to be a good neighbour and, as the Prime Minister made clear in her recent speech, to be an active European ally and collaborator—outside the political institutions of the EU, but members of a European community of nations and neighbours.
In my view, proper democrats cannot and must not say, “Oh, the Brexit vote was illegitimate. Brexit voters were ignorant. They weren’t qualified.” How condescending! Do we say that when they vote Labour, or when they vote UKIP? No. We all of us accept such results, and so we should now. Although the referendum was, in my opinion, a low point in British political discourse—let us remember that it included the appalling murder of one of our colleagues by a deranged neo-Nazi—the core underlying mandate of the British people was crystal clear. To the extent that it was not crystal clear, it is our job as elected democrats in our debates in this House to bring to the vote the crystal clarity that it needs.
All we are now doing is giving the Prime Minister and her Government the authority to start the negotiation of the terms on which we will leave the European Union. In many ways, the real debate will come not this afternoon, but when we discuss the terms of the negotiation in the House during the next two years and, ultimately, the package that she brings back to us.
Scotland is an equal partner in this “United Kingdom of nations”, to quote the former Prime Minister, so how does it come about that a massive vote in Scotland to remain and a narrow vote in England to leave results in Scotland leaving on England’s terms?
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for raising that point. One of the most interesting aspects of the Supreme Court judgment—the media have not picked it up—is that Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales were and are bound by the vote of this sovereign House, which SNP Members participated in, to give the British people such a decision.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Our Prime Minister stepped in to lead a Government committed to delivering Brexit, but who would tackle the domestic policy challenges that fuelled much of the wider disillusionment that the vote also signified. It is my privilege to work with her team on that. She now faces an extraordinary political challenge: to deliver Brexit, to negotiate the most important deal for this country in 100 years; to negotiate new trade deals with countries around the world; and to continue the great and urgent task of domestic social and economic reform, such as tackling our structural deficit, shaping our old-fashioned public services and tackling the urgent challenges of social and economic exclusion.
The truth is that the Brexit negotiations ahead of us are perhaps the greatest test of British peacetime diplomacy for a century, and the burden that falls on our Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary and Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union is heavy indeed. To succeed, we will have to put aside many of the differences that divide this House, and instead work together to make sure that we get the best deal for the country we all serve. Our interests are not served by requesting that the negotiation be carried out on Twitter.
At a time when trust in politics has never been so low, we have an opportunity to restore public trust in mainstream politics not to score easy points, but to show that we are worthy of the sovereignty vested in us and in the name of which the Brexiteers have campaigned. Our Brexit deal must be an ambitious Brexit deal for Britain. It must be a Brexit that means we can once again control our own laws, strengthen our Union, protect workers’ rights and strike ambitious new trade deals around the world. [Interruption.] Yes, for Scotland, too. To do this, however, we will have to continue to be engaged with the world, and to cherish our British values. [Interruption.] As the Prime Minister made clear in her recent electrifying speech—I encourage Alex Salmond, who is chuntering from a sedentary position, to read it—the work of bridging the gap between Europe and the United States will remain one of the key tasks of international relations for many decades to come.
I believe our Prime Minister has set out to do for markets and the west what the great Lady Thatcher did for the defence of the west. Last week, she showed that she was more than up for leading such a mission. It may not always be easy, but it is necessary for this country, which is not something that the right hon. Gentleman who was chuntering understands. I welcome the fact that she has made such an encouraging start with President Trump—he, too, has been elected—because although he campaigned for “America first”, the foreign policy signals are that for the Americans it is now a case of “Britain first”, and we should welcome that.
When the Prime Minister this week refused three times to condemn an obvious breach of not just this country’s values but any liberal democracy’s values, what part of great British values was she standing up for?
I think the people of this country, in the way they have rewarded our Prime Minister with a huge lead in the opinion polls, know exactly the answer to that question.
We need a Brexit that works for the UK, the EU and the USA, because the west is facing a major test. It is in all our interests to make it work. This is not just a cultural debate; it is a hard-headed economic negotiation. The truth is that our diplomatic, military and political authority in the west is based on our economic growth and economic success. That is why I am passionately excited about the future for this country as a source of science for global sustainable growth in food, medicine and energy: Britain as a crucible of a deregulated, innovation economy leading the world in the challenges of the 21st century.
Other speeches have been eloquent, passionate and constitutionally well informed. This speech will not be that. I want this speech to be about, and to be addressed directly to, my constituents.
The residents of Trafford voted to remain in the European Union, reflecting, I believe, our long and proud industrial history of trade, export and innovation. Trafford Park, in my constituency, was the first—I think it remains the largest—industrial estate in Europe. It is home to many domestic, European and international businesses, some of which have been based there for many decades. We welcome, too, EU and international businesses and manufacturers who have established sizeable operations elsewhere in the constituency. They make a significant contribution, nationally and locally, to the economy and employment. They are successful, they are thriving and many have been very clear with me that leaving the EU will make doing business more complex, uncertain and difficult. They highlight the importance of access to the EU market and skilled EU workers, consistent regulatory standards, and avoiding tariff barriers.
They are also adaptable. I do not say that on leaving the European Union their businesses will fail or be unable to adapt to new circumstances. However, what they look for, as far as possible, is continuity and certainty. What they say to me is that neither of those appears likely as a result of the Bill. What we know is not what we will have, but what we will not have. Single market access is out and so is full membership of the customs union. In their place come vague aspirations of new deals and arrangements with the EU and other countries that completely fail to recognise that our aspirations may not match those of our partners. On
Shocks can of course be managed, but not by outright denial of their existence. With the Bill, we are being asked to buy a pig in a poke. We are being asked to vote to trigger the exit process with no evidence at all that there is a plan in place to protect our economy and our constituents. Important protections and standards all remain to be secured, whether in relation to our economy, our trading relationships or our security. To be asked now to endorse an exit process, when the answers to those important questions are still so vague, does not bode well for the outcome. In fact, the position with the Bill is so uncertain that I find it impossible to vote for it. I will abstain on the vote tomorrow. If the Government cannot allay my concerns during the remainder of the Bill’s passage through Parliament such that I can be sure that my constituents’ interests will be protected, at the final vote I will oppose it.
In saying that, and in concluding, I want to address the argument about respecting the referendum result. I have thought deeply about this, as I have sought to balance the wishes of voters in Trafford with the national result in a referendum for which I freely acknowledge I voted. Some of my constituents who voted to remain have told me they now feel we have no choice but to accept the result, but others do not think that. I have been sent here by my constituents to represent their interests as I see best, and I am falling back on my conscience.
Everything I have done in politics and public policy has been informed by what I believe to be the most important priority: namely, what is the interest not just of my constituents but of future generations, and I do not believe that future generations will be well served by woolly aspirations to address the economic, social and security needs of their futures, by our turning our backs on maximum access to the single market, by the absence of detail on rights, protections and security or by Ministers’ complacent optimism or lazy promises.
The Government could make good these deficiencies, were they to accept many of the amendments to the Bill, but unless that happens we should not proceed to trigger article 50. In my view, Mr Clegg was right to say that the judgment of future generations is what must guide us in making a decision on the Bill. We will be judged by them on the deal they inherit.
It is a privilege to speak in this historic debate. We have heard many passionate contributions, including from Kate Green, who has clearly thought about this issue a lot and clearly takes a principled position. I do not share it, but I do respect it. Many of the contributions mirror the exact debate we had out in the country last June, when people put their arguments passionately on both sides of the debate. It was a privilege to go up and down the country, engaging with and talking to people on both sides—about their concerns and reasons for voting to leave the EU and about the argument for voting to remain. I recognise, therefore, that there are sincerely held points of view, not just in the House but across the country.
The word “judgment” has been used a lot this afternoon, and there have been many references to Burke in 1774, but my judgment is plain for all to see. I used my judgment in standing on the manifesto I stood on in 2015, I used my judgment in voting for the referendum and I used my judgment in advocating that my constituents and people across this great country vote to leave.
Order. Would the hon. Gentleman mind asking the hon. Gentleman, rather than the Chair, about the use of judgment? I know he does not care how I use my judgment.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but it has probably detained the House long enough already. The leave side stood on a platform that was clear for all to see, but I have no intention of raking over that ground, as time is short.
As Members of Parliament we have responsibilities, and the order of these things is well established: we have to put the national interest first. In the interests of balance, I will talk about two things said so far. First, my hon. Friend Philip Davies is right that all those Members who voted for the referendum have a duty to deliver on the verdict. On the remain side, my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve made a powerful point when he said that every Member had a duty to end the uncertainty. Let us be clear: the debate was had, the engagement was high and the turnout was the highest that we have seen for nearly 25 years. In my constituency of Corby and East Northamptonshire, the verdict was clear as well. In Corby, 64.25% voted to leave; in East Northamptonshire, the majority of which I represent, 58.75% voted to leave.
Members in all parts of the House have set this train in motion. We used our judgment, not just in voting for the referendum, but in choosing a side and making the arguments, but in doing that we also judged that we were going to let the people and the country decide, and that is exactly what they did. I believe that we have a duty to live up to our responsibilities, because we abdicate and tamper with our democratic principles at our peril.
How did we get to this point, with a nation so divided? The weekend after
I am delighted to have my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy on the Bench next to me, because he has taken such a brave stance over the last eight months on this question. Anyone who reads his Twitter feed will see that he has received the most enormous abuse, which has been uncomfortable for those of us who care deeply about race relations, particularly in London and around.
I would also like to talk about the way in which we have come to this decision-making process. Many of us came into the House through local government. As a council leader, if I had tried to bring forward a decision in my council on the basis of a speech and a couple of letters to the local newspaper, my councillors would have hounded me out of the council room, and they would have been quite right. Indeed, the chair of my Labour group and secretary would have been hammering me, so I feel that we have not questioned enough, including internally, within the governing majority party. Despite our best efforts from the Front Benches of other parties, I feel that we have simply not had the numbers to hold the Government to account on crucial votes. That is a cause of great regret.
I want briefly to talk about the economy. We know that the statistics are not quite there yet, but household debt is up 13% in the last 12 months. We also know that our currency is dropping. The dropping of the currency is an external assessment of our economy, which is a cause for concern as well. We know that when the economy declines, it is not the well-off communities that are affected, but the poorer ones. Mr Farage famously said:
“I think the social side of this matters more than pure market economics,” admitting that being poorer could be the result of leaving the European Union. Somehow, I suspect that poverty will not apply to Mr Farage, who does not look as though he is getting any poorer.
I want briefly to return to a point that Mr Duncan Smith made earlier in the debate about Mr Spinelli, who wrote about the rise of nationalism. I believe this is a cause for concern. One hundred years ago, my great-uncle died at Passchendaele. When I take my children to see his grave and try to explain why he died and what he died for, I talk about values such as liberty and trying to work with people whom we do not get on with, and I think back to the 42 years of peace and prosperity that we have had. We are in a really dangerous place internationally, and I worry about our realignment with the US, a country that is perhaps not as open to free trade right now as we would like it to be, or to different ideas or the different people who make up this incredible globe.
I want to express my fear and concern that leaving the European Union may also lead to a poorer future, not just for jobs and the economy, and not just because sterling is going down, but because we are making this decision for young people. Many of us here voted twice on whether 16 to 18-year-olds should have had the right to participate in the referendum. Sadly, we were defeated twice, despite the advice from the other place. I think that is a terrible pity, because I feel that they think we are slamming the door on their future. I am also a strong Unionist, and I feel sad because I think this will have a detrimental effect on Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. There are a great many questions there that have not been answered. We have not been given any information, and we have not been brought in on this wonderful secret negotiation that is happening. I do not feel ready to trust.
The best power that I can use is my vote. When tomorrow comes, I shall not vote to support Second Reading, because I think this is the only way to make the Government listen to the concerns that many of us hold, and hold very dearly. It is not just about jobs and the economy; it is about our children and our grandchildren, and about peace and prosperity.
It is a great pleasure to follow Catherine West, who speaks with total sincerity. I obviously do not agree with her analysis of the economy, and I do not agree with voting against article 50, but I absolutely respect her sincerity in making the decision she has. One important aspect of today’s debate is that it is about individual Members making up their mind.
Anyone who goes to a Conservative selection event will find that one question likely to be asked is, “What would you put first—country, constituency or party?” The answer is country first, constituency second and party third. Happily, in most cases that aligns; it certainly aligns now, and I am delighted with what the Government have done.
I think that the Government were wrong, but I understand why they tried to go via the royal prerogative. They took the view that this House had delegated to the British people the decision on whether we should stay or leave the European Union. Once that decision was made, they thought they could trigger article 50 through the royal prerogative. In fact, I remember the previous Prime Minister saying that he would trigger article 50 the day after the vote. I argued against that privately. I said that we should have a parliamentary process, and that it should be done through a Bill in Parliament. I introduced a private Member’s Bill to do exactly that, and trigger article 50 by
I am very pleased that the Labour party has now taken a much different line. I thought the shadow Secretary of State got it right: trigger article 50, because that is what the British people voted for, then let us have full parliamentary scrutiny of the Bill. No Bill going through this Parliament—the great repeal Act or anything else—will fail to benefit from the parliamentary process. It may well be that this Bill will benefit next week from the approval of some amendment or other. I do not know, but it will benefit from full parliamentary scrutiny.
I apologise for wearing the hideous tie again. It has come out of retirement for today and tomorrow and for three days next week. Obviously, however, if this House were somehow to vote not to trigger article 50, I would have to wear the tie for a lot longer. Hopefully, that might change some votes on the other side.
The hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green mentioned that it was very difficult to get on and work with some people. As a founding member of GO —Grassroots Out—which was a cross-party group that campaigned to leave, I know exactly what she means. I had to work with people from the Labour party, the Democratic Unionist party and the UK Independence party—and, what was even more difficult, with people from my own party—to try to get us all to agree to put party politics to one side. It was an amazing feat as we toured up and down the country to find that people who could not really stand each other—[Interruption]; yes, and that is just the Tory party—could actually work together and produce something in the national interest.
I look across the Chamber and see Kate Hoey. What an outstanding parliamentarian! She put the country first. It was difficult enough, all those years ago, to be in the Conservative party when it was absolutely for the European Union and we were idiots to request a referendum. It must be much more difficult to be in the Labour party and campaign for us to leave, and I congratulate members of the Labour party who put their country first.
It may seem somewhat controversial in this Chamber, but I also congratulate Nigel Farage. I think that he campaigned for something in which he believed passionately. When I worked with him, he toed the “GO” line. Four people decided GO policy: Tom Pursglove, and Nigel Farage. Despite our different views, we all managed to work together in the country’s interest.
I am afraid that by the time we embarked on the referendum campaign proper, the GO movement alliance had broken down. I am sorry if I misled the House. I should have said that prior to the designation of the official campaign, the GO organisation was united, but after that its members went their separate ways. If we are touching on the issue of immigration, however, let me say that it was always GO’s view that European Union citizens who were in this country before the referendum had the right to stay. I personally would have liked the Government to act on that unilaterally, although I completely understand why they have not done so: they want to protect our citizens abroad.
Whichever way we look at it, and whichever side of the argument we were on, this was an extraordinarily democratic exercise. The great thing now is that the focus of the country is back here in this sovereign Parliament, where we can make the decisions. Let me say this to Opposition Members. Some time in the future, you will be on these Benches, and you will be able to make the laws. You will be able to push it. Hopefully, that will not happen for a long time—
I believe that the votes that I shall cast on the Bill will be the most important votes that I shall cast as a Member of Parliament.
I am a passionate European. I represent a European capital city constituency. I campaigned strongly for us to remain in the EU last year; I voted for us to remain, and my constituents and my city voted overwhelmingly for us to remain.
I have lived in Cardiff for nearly 30 years. The very first person whom I met when I unloaded my belongings from the transit van in 1989 was a French national who had come to Cardiff from Limoges. He lived next door, and he has become a lifelong friend, as well as a successful businessman in my city, employing many people. Now, 30 years on, I live next door to a German national, a university academic who has made his home in my constituency, has married a Welsh woman, and has a young family. He is an expert in his field, and is teaching the next generation of experts at one of my constituency’s three universities.
Every day in Cardiff Central I meet, speak and listen to neighbours and residents from across Europe and across the globe: business owners, students, doctors, healthcare workers, researchers, teachers, mothers, fathers and children. During and since the referendum campaign, however, I have had many conversations with constituents who are worried and frightened. Some have been victims of racism and hate crimes, like my friend Suzanne, who came to Cardiff from Germany and has a young daughter Lilleth, who is at primary school. They have been spat at, told to “go home”, and had bricks and stones thrown at them in the street. This is the climate that they, and we, are living in, and I do not believe it is a coincidence of timing. It is a direct consequence of the referendum campaign, and the events of the past week in the United States make me more fearful of the rapidly developing climate of intolerance in our country. I implore Ministers to reassure immediately EU nationals across Britain that their legal status will be confirmed.
When I look back at the last 12 months leading up the publication of this Bill, one thing stands out for me: the reckless action of the former Member for Witney. Where is he now? He has gone, disappeared, vanished; a man who put himself and his party before the national interest, and who gambled our country’s safety, future prosperity and long-standing European and wider international relationships to save his party and his premiership from imploding. He went to Brussels and miserably failed to negotiate a suitable reform package. He denied 16 and 17-year-olds the right to have a vote in their future. Then he abandoned ship, leaving an almighty mess behind him.
I accept that the referendum result is to leave, but I do not agree with it, and I certainly do not have to be silent in representing my constituents’ views, just as I accept that at the last general election those on the Conservative Benches won a majority, but I do not have to agree with every policy the Government seek to implement, and neither will I be silent about that. I also accept that the parliamentary numbers are such that article 50 will be triggered and Britain will leave the EU, but I believe, and will continue to believe, that leaving the EU is a terrible mistake, and I cannot reconcile my overwhelming belief that to endorse the step that will make exit inevitable is wrong. I cannot endorse it, particularly when there have been no guarantees before triggering article 50 about protecting single market access, employment, environmental and consumer rights, security and judicial safeguards, and the residency rights of many of my constituents—and no guarantees for the people of Wales, never mind a seat at the negotiating table. I will not stay silent on the basis that to speak is to be anti-democratic, while the current Prime Minister leads us towards a brutal exit with all the damage that that will cause to the people and community I represent.
Serving as shadow Secretary of State for Wales reinforced even more strongly to me what Wales will lose from exiting the EU without the guarantees that are needed. We are net beneficiaries of EU funding to the tune of £245 million every year, and in the last 10 years EU-funded projects have helped to support nearly 73,000 people into work and 234,000 people to gain qualifications. Those projects have helped to create nearly 12,000 businesses and 37,000 new jobs. Sixty-eight per cent. of our exports go to EU countries, and parts of our farming and food production sector rely almost exclusively on the EU market.
The single market is the lifeline to our manufacturing industry—what is left of it—in steel, automotive and aerospace, as well as to our farming and food production sector, so I cannot accept the Prime Minister’s decision that we are leaving the single market. The referendum result last year felt like a body blow, the Prime Minister’s speech felt like the life-support machine being switched off, and triggering article 50 will, for me, feel like the funeral. It is a matter of principle and conscience to me, and I must represent the majority of my constituents and share their view. I will not vote for this Bill.
It is a pleasure to follow Jo Stevens, who spoke with great passion; I do not agree with her, but she is clearly wrestling with many issues.
This is a hugely significant moment for the west midlands region, part of which I represent, and for this House. It seems quite a long time ago that I was one of the 81 Conservatives who went into the Lobby to vote in favour of a referendum in 2011, and it also seems like quite a long time ago that I was sitting behind the Front Bench in my role as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister for Europe as the European Union Referendum Bill was steered through Parliament. During its passage I had to spend many long hours in this Chamber wearing my tin hat, as it were. So I am a passionate believer in the referendum and I recognise the importance of the result.
I had concerns about the economic consequences of our leaving the European Union, but the reality was that the west midlands region was one of the strongest regions in the country in terms of voting to leave. I think every single area of the west midlands voted for us to leave the European Union. As a democrat, and as someone who fought for the referendum, I clearly have to respect that result. We in the Black country and the west midlands are very pragmatic people. The west midlands economy has been performing extremely well over the past few years, and it is now incumbent on me and other leaders in the region to take advantage of the opportunities that leaving the European Union will present to our economy.
I hope that we will trigger article 50 when we vote tomorrow, and I want to mention certain factors that need to be taken into consideration in the negotiations. As I have said, the west midlands economy has been performing very well. It is currently one of the export powerhouses of the UK economy, with strong exporting not only to the European Union but to the United States and China. However, there are certain countries to which we do not export so strongly. They include Japan, Malaysia and Indonesia, where the west midlands has negligible export volumes. When we are looking at making free trade deals around the world, there will be an opportunity to facilitate further export potential for west midlands manufacturers in the transport sector, for example.
I do not believe for a minute that we will not get a deal that will be of benefit to UK-based car manufacturers. It is inconceivable that we would be unable to get such a deal.
Leaving the European Union will give us an opportunity to achieve something that has eluded Governments over the past 25 to 30 years—namely, an opportunity to rebalance our economy and lock in the benefits of regional devolution. The west midlands has benefited from European grants for infrastructure development, and as we enter into the negotiation process, it will be incumbent on us to raise the investment levels for infrastructure and skills in the west midlands. For example, the west midlands currently receives 40% less investment in transport than London and Scotland. The region is dependent on manufacturing and transportation, and that discrepancy has resulted in capacity constraints in the west midlands economy that need to be addressed.
One of the principal reasons that people in the Black country and the west midlands voted to leave the European Union was that they wanted to control immigration. As we trigger article 50 and think about negotiating our exit, one of the most important factors will be for the Government to commit to raising the skill levels in the west midlands in order to create high-quality jobs, and to see the west midlands as a critical component of our national story. The west midlands needs to have a voice in the negotiations. In May this year, we will have a directly elected mayor for the West Midlands Combined Authority, and I hope that it will be Andy Street, the excellent Conservative candidate. As the region that voted the most decisively to leave, the west midlands must be at the head of the queue for getting the benefits that I believe can accrue from our leaving the European Union.
I also want to make a broader point about Britain’s place in the world. Even though I have concerns about the European Union and voted for Britain to remain in it, I have never been a fan of its political structures. We are now on the cusp of an opportunity. For 40 years, we have spent a lot of diplomatic resource and energy on managing our relationships across the EU. We now need to change our posture in the world, to be much more outward looking and to use our diplomatic reach and resources to change how we influence the world. We have enormous soft power to deploy in the world, and we should invest more in our hard power. That combination of diplomatic reach, soft power resources and the ability to deploy hard power gives a Britain outside the EU the unique opportunity to stop expending energy on it and its predilections and to focus outwards. As we embark on the renegotiation, there is a real opportunity to challenge many of the assumptions that have driven British foreign policy over the past 40 years and to forge a new role as a global, outward-looking Britain that works for all the regions of the United Kingdom.
I am unable to support this Bill and the triggering of article 50. Like Mr Clarke, I think that the whole operation is a bit like following a rabbit into the hole and hoping to emerge in Wonderland, with or without Alice.
Like my colleagues and many other Members, I do not seek to deny England or Wales their right to exit the European Union, if that is what the people of those nations have decided. I might disagree with the wisdom of that view, but that is not why I oppose the Bill. I have never pretended that the European Union was perfect or that it does not need reform—even radical reform—but the EU has delivered for Northern Ireland. It helped to deliver parity of esteem and prosperity for all sides of our community, and it has helped to bring peace in difficult times. European investment and access to the single market has done so much in the past 25 years to remake my city, Belfast. It is a world-leading city that faces the 21st century, having had a difficult 20th century, not least because of the hard work of hundreds of people who came to Belfast from across Europe to work and contribute positively to our society, and to help to build a better economy, in the process building prosperity.
I am here today on behalf of the people of South Belfast, where 70% voted to remain on a 70% turnout, so the result is without doubt. I ask the Government not to take away unnecessarily our membership of the EU, which has already done so much for my constituency and has the potential to do more. Queen’s University Belfast in the heart of my constituency is highly dependent on EU funding for its research and development, but I have received no guarantees—in fact, I have little expectation—that the Government will match that funding post-Brexit.
The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State have already said, both here and elsewhere, that they have no desire to return to the borders of the past. I am glad to hear that, and so are the 30,000 people who cross the Irish border every day for work, but they need a bit more than warm words of comfort. They need a concrete arrangement between Dublin, London, Belfast and Brussels to sustain reasonable access to their livelihoods, but the Government seem to have missed the fact that our concerns in Northern Ireland go much deeper than just avoiding border posts. Our membership of the EU is written throughout the fabric of the Good Friday agreement, or the Belfast agreement as some prefer to call it. Our political settlement in 1998 keeps all our parties at the table and sustains a peace process, and hopefully a better prosperity process to follow. The EU values and rules that are written into the fabric of that agreement have helped to maintain stability. Without the EU, that stability would not have been obtained and maintained. Maintaining that stability and the settlement requires the principles of the Good Friday agreement to be underpinned in law throughout the exit process, both at the outset and in the final exit deal, and that is without even touching on the wider concerns that hon. Members have raised about the impact of Brexit on our universities, the rights of European citizens already living here and the rights of our own citizens who wish to study or work across the European Union.
Regardless of the Supreme Court’s decision on the role of the devolved Administrations, which I beg to differ from, it is in the Government’s interest to get this process right for Northern Ireland and to maintain the political stability that has been achieved. Indeed, as a co-guarantor of the 1998 Good Friday agreement, the Government are obliged to sustain that stability.
It will be much harder to get things right and to restore stability in Northern Ireland if we rush to meet an artificial timetable that has been imposed unnecessarily by the Government. That is why I call on them, even at this late stage, not to rush now and regret later. I beg them to take the time to get this right for all of us. Earlier today the Secretary of State told us to trust the wisdom of the people. Well, there is no one I trust more with the future of Northern Ireland than the people of Northern Ireland, and the people of Northern Ireland voted to remain. I remind the House that people in Belfast South voted by 70%, on a 70% turnout, to stay in Europe. I hope that I am representing them and their views here today. With no answers—or, at the very best, foggy answers—about the border, our economy and protecting parity of esteem, my colleagues and I cannot vote to support the triggering of article 50.
There has been a lot of debate about whether the Government have a sufficient mandate not only to invoke article 50, but to exit the single market and the customs union. Many hon. Members might know that my involvement in that question did not begin when I was elected to this House in 2015. In the five years prior to then, I had the privilege of working in Downing Street. For me, the whole question of our membership of the EU is inextricably rooted in the conflict between control—principally of immigration and our own laws—on the one hand, and our membership of the single market on the other. In the decade that followed Tony Blair’s disastrous decision to allow the new eastern European members of the EU to gain full access to the labour market without transitional controls, net migration from the EU went from being roughly in balance to being in the hundreds of thousands every year.
The application of the single market to the field of labour went from facilitating the free movement of labour around countries of roughly equal development to a mechanism for mass economic migration. That, in turn, was compounded by the fact that the UK had not only no transitional controls, but an open, English-speaking labour market that is much more conducive to migrants. Latterly, the eurozone crisis meant that while much of Europe stagnated, a mercifully free United Kingdom became a jobs-creation engine that sucked labour from stagnant continental countries.
All that led to a growing sense of a loss of control. These were huge changes about which the British people were never asked and to which they never consented. That was why Conservative manifestos repeatedly committed us to reducing migration to the tens of thousands, but our experience in government demonstrated that that could not be achieved.
The Conservative manifesto committed us to renegotiation followed by an in/out referendum, which was exactly what we delivered. The whole argument I am making is that the question of EU membership is inextricably linked to that of the single market.
The problem with trying to control migration within the EU is that the Commission rigidly stuck to the doctrine that the free movement of people was one of the immovable pillars of the single market, and that any attempt to favour UK nationals over EU nationals was discriminatory and illegal. That was despite the fact that the whole reality of its application had changed since we initially agreed to single market membership, and that there was no similar perfect purity applied to the other pillars, particularly in services, in which the UK stood to be a major beneficiary of a pure single market.
Is it not the case that several EU countries now have deep concerns about the consequences of unfettered free movement and that the collapse of Schengen, albeit for different reasons, is further evidence of that?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention; what he says is undoubtedly the case. The problem is that the Commission and other EU members move at a glacial speed, so there is unlikely to be a significant change in their approach to this pillar of the single market for some time.
Of course this issue was not the only factor, but it certainly gave strong impetus to the argument that the only way we could resolve the situation was through a policy of renegotiation followed by a referendum, which was what we fought the 2015 election on. Again, the Commission dogmatically refused to compromise on its conception of free movement, which was bolstered by Chancellor Merkel’s experience of growing up as a child of East Germany and innate hostility to any imposition of borders. Going into the referendum, we therefore could not credibly say that significant control had been restored.
Pitted against that strong argument for leaving the EU was the significant economic risk and dislocation that arose from losing unfettered access to a market of half a billion people, which we had achieved through full membership of single market. The decision therefore was about a difficult balance between control and risk, which was why it was absolutely right to put such a profound question to the British people in a referendum. We should be quite clear that the dilemma of EU membership was, in essence, the dilemma of our membership of the single market: the benefits of having free movement of goods, services and capital set against the loss of control of our laws and migration policy. These issues were the essence of the debate.
My innate conservatism favoured not taking that risk, but the British people took an alternative decision—this was whole point of asking them in the first place. So it is clear that not only should I respect that decision and vote to invoke article 50, but that I should also seek to implement it fully, which must mean leaving both the single market and the customs union. For people to claim that the Government do not have a mandate to do that is to completely ignore how we got to this situation in the first place.
Equally, however, we must be clear about the other choices that we have taken. I am glad that the economy has maintained momentum after the initial political decision to leave, and I am confident that in the medium to long term we can make a success of the huge liberation of leaving the EU. We can tailor our laws to meet the economic and trading interests of this country and those with which we choose to enter bilateral deals, rather than being bound by the lowest common denominator interests of a 27-member bloc. Indeed, we are well placed to exploit this position, as we have a centrally placed time zone, the English language, political stability, the rule of law, a competitive tax regime and tremendous creativity. But we should also not forget the risk we took by choosing to leave. I am sure that, in the short term, the depreciation of sterling is likely to lead to price rises this year, squeezing disposable income and consumer spending. The terms of our access to the single market will be different, causing short-term dislocation. Of course, the Commission and member states will initially—
The hon. Gentleman correctly points out that the fall in sterling will lead to an increase in inflation. This Government have frozen benefits for the next four years, so does not that action and the fact that the autumn statement shows that growth is going to be lower mean that, as a consequence, a lot of people will be very much poorer?
Two things: first, record low unemployment means that there is tremendous opportunity for those people; and, secondly, wages across the board have not grown rapidly, so it is entirely right that constraint is applied to benefits.
Of course the Commission and member states will initially resist any deal that is not unambiguously seen as making the UK worse off from exiting the EU. I say that not to refight the battles of the past, but because if we expect the changes I have described, plan for them and manage them as the necessary consequences of the decisions we have taken, we will be better placed to see them through to opportunities in the long run. This is the beginning of a process of historic change in our nation, but it is a path we have chosen with our eyes open, through an exercise of our democratic rights, and we have many reasons to be optimistic. Government Members are now all on the same side, and we should seize the opportunities that this change of direction affords us.
It is a pleasure to follow Oliver Dowden.
I begin by associating myself with the remarks made by my hon. Friend Jo Stevens. I wish that I was not engaged in this debate tonight. I wish that we were not having to clear up this mess. I wish that the former right hon. Member for Witney had not cut and run but was here to help us to dig our way out of this hole. I am not surprised that he left, because he offered us a political strategy that was based on the ethos and ethics of the Bullingdon club: smash up the place, put some cash on the table, and leave it to others to clear up. I am not sure where the cash is—[Interruption.] As Mr Jackson knows, we appear to be half a trillion pounds further in debt than we were in 2010. Although I wish that we were not starting from this point, the people have voted. This is a democracy and I will respect the decision that was taken.
My right hon. Friend Hilary Benn hit the nail absolutely on the head. The people of this country did not vote for a plan or a blueprint. They did not vote to lose their jobs and they did not vote based on the full truth on the table. Indeed, the campaign was terrible, bedevilled with lies about what money would be saved and what money would be spent. There was, though, a vote to make Parliament sovereign, and we should start now by making sure that Parliament is sovereign over the plan. This must be the first debate of many, and tomorrow and in the coming days we will have the first votes of many. We will ask the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and his colleagues to come back to the House so that we can check whether they have got the answers right and their strategy sound.
As the Secretary of State sets about the negotiations, I want to ensure that three things are uppermost in his mind. First, we have to ensure that those who lose out from Brexit are helped and supported. We all know that there are people who will be battered and bruised by the Brexit process—there is no point pretending otherwise—but let us make sure that a plan is in place to support them. They are not the rich; they are the poor. As has been argued, they are the people whose tax credits have been frozen. As a result of that and the higher inflation that is now cursing fuel and food, they will be £620 a year worse off by the time of the next election. We need a plan for making sure that we do not waste £1 billion on corporate tax cuts by 2020. Let us use that money to unlock the freeze on benefits.
I know that experts are no longer in fashion among Conservative Members, but the Office for Budget Responsibility is clear that, because of higher inflation, people on tax credits will be poorer, not richer, over the next couple of years. I genuinely believe that the Brexit Secretary does want to protect hard-working families, but let us see him put his money where his mouth is by arguing with the Chancellor in favour of unfreezing tax credits over the next couple of years. That should be our priority.
Secondly, we need a real plan to protect manufacturing in this country. We must recognise that manufacturing output has not yet recovered to its level before the crash. The car industry in regions such as mine in the west midlands employs 49,000 people today, but it will be destroyed if we have to rely on WTO tariffs of 10%, and if we add another 10% to costs by building a border to check the 60% of parts that we import to build the cars that are created in this country. Whatever deal is put in place, it must put manufacturing first.
Thirdly, we must ensure that there is no race to the bottom on rights—on workers’ rights, social rights and the rights of minorities. We have already seen the briefing that has come out from a No. 10 source that the Conservatives’ 2020 manifesto will propose exiting the European convention on human rights—that great European Magna Carta that we in this country helped to draw up after the war to stop any return to the holocaust that we marked last week. How can we possibly contemplate leaving that convention and joining the company of Putin’s Russia? I hope that, over the course of these debates, we will hear a cast-iron guarantee that there will be no exit from the convention on human rights.
Finally, although tests are looming on how we protect those battered and bruised by Brexit, how we defend manufacturing, and how we ensure that there is no race to the bottom on rights, the spirit of these negotiations is important. I have to accept that we will leave a federal Europe, but I believe that now could be the start of a confederal project in which we begin to step up our collaboration with our neighbours on security, jobs, international development, science—the things that we can do together in the world. In this debate, it is so important now that we do not listen to the devils and demons of division. Now is the time for the Government to listen to the better angels of our nature.
“In politics, if you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman.”
I am extremely pleased that our current Prime Minister is in place, because she is taking on an unbelievably difficult task and delivering it with intellect, grace and clarity. She has made it very clear to this House, regardless of how we campaigned or voted, what the process and the timetable will be, and for that I am truly grateful.
The quote in this case is a little incorrect, because it has been men and women, over many years, who have debated endlessly in this place and elsewhere the European question—something that was a monumental talking point when I first came to this place. Rather confusingly, the debate did not seem to include talking about the issues that face this country and that will continue to face this country after our departure from the European Union, our puzzling and troubling productivity gap in British industry, our lack of skills, our lack of investment in education, our problems with the low savings rate that mean that families have so little to fall back on and that the country has very little to draw on for investments going forward. Suddenly on
Like so many who have spoken today, I was appalled by the quality of the debate and of the conversations that took place. We were asking the country to make a very profound decision on the basis of slogans. Extremely complicated questions and trade-offs were boiled down into a single yes or no question. The whole issue was spiced up with anti-immigration rhetoric. I am sorry for hon. Members who believe that that was not what the leave campaign represented. I thought that the breaking point poster of people wanting to come into this country was a particularly low point in the debate. The conversation was also sullied by misrepresentation over funding. We have debated today the £350 million and the £100 million or whatever it was. On foreign policy, what has happened to those conversations about Turkey, which, if we listened to many Members who were campaigning for a certain side, was lined up to join the EU?
Equally, I accept that it was the remain side that gave us project fear. We were not given positive measures on which to campaign. What about staying connected or staying relevant in the world, rather than frightening people with theoretical models, which, thanks to quantitative easing and an interest rate cut, have yet to come true?
Since the referendum result, the Government, ably led by our Prime Minister, have taken the pragmatic approach that we are where we are and that what we need is strength and leadership. As Hilary Benn said earlier, the major problem facing us and representatives of other western democracies is a crisis of trust in our institutions and politicians. Therefore I will, like so many others, vote with the Government tomorrow night to support the triggering of article 50.
We will never be able to prove the counterfactual: what would have happened if we had not voted to leave, without the depreciation in currency and the changes already happening in the European Union. I, for one, feel ill-informed about this debate. I went back to the debates held in this House at the time when we joined the EU, which started with the publication of a White Paper in 1967 and ended with the referendum in 1975. I have read the speeches given by Charles Morrison, my predecessor but one, who contributed to those debates; he was an arch-European, I am pleased to say. He was given the opportunity to take part in extensive debates over six White Papers in the formation of a manifesto for the 1970 election and in multiple conversations with Parliament.
Indeed, the White Paper presented by the Heath Government in 1971 reported back on the progress of negotiations that had been made until that point between the British Government and members of the then small European Economic Community, and set out what areas still needed to be discussed. Compared with my predecessor, I do not feel well informed about the process and the trade-offs for the British economy. I refute wholeheartedly the idea that people voted one way or another in the referendum based on some perfect knowledge of all the facts. I sat through many a hustings in which my opponents said, “It’s not for us to define what leave looks like. You’re the Government—it’s your job. We just know that we want to be out.” Everybody’s view of Brexit is slightly different.
As we near the end of the two-year process, how do we assure ourselves and our constituents that we are making the right decision? First, I urge the Government to be as open and transparent as possible and to bring forward the White Paper before the Bill goes into Committee. When we get to the end of the process and there is a binary offer—we will be either in some form of relationship with the European Union or not—I ask the Government to say what the economic consequences of those deals look like. We cannot possibly sit down and make an assessment of what a free trade world—or, indeed, a relationship with the EU, plus or minus any economic contribution we would be asked to make—might look like without understanding the implications for our country. Perhaps we have made a good decision for all the wrong reasons, but I do not yet feel that we have the right information to justify that to the country.
In this country, we have settled, through a process of trial and error, on a system of parliamentary democracy as the most effective form of governance. The importance of Parliament’s role was once again asserted by the Supreme Court last week. The responsibility of parliamentarians is clear: to take decisions in the best interests of the country with particular regard for the needs of their constituents. I believe that leaving the European Union will be hugely damaging for this country; the British people, through the referendum, narrowly expressed a different view. It is now up to Parliament to take account of the result of the referendum and decide what is in the best interests of the country.
There is no evidence, and none has been presented, that the best interests of the country will be served by the immediate triggering of article 50 and the pursuit of the hardest Brexit possible. It seems to me an abdication of responsibility to say that the only factor that can be considered in deciding whether to trigger article 50 is the result of the referendum. “The will of the people” cannot be tied down to one single point and be presumed never to change or waver. It should not be assumed that the decision of a narrow majority of people, willing and entitled to express a view on
The Conservative manifesto on which we won the election stated that we would hold a referendum and uphold its result. That is a promise made and a promise kept. Does the hon. Lady accept that?
There has been a lot of talk about the European Union Referendum Act 2015. I was not here. I did not vote for it. I am not bound by it. The Conservative party’s 2015 manifesto also committed us to staying in the single market.
If, in three or eight years’ time, the people are not happy with the outcome of Brexit, who should they hold accountable? If they want the country to take a different course, how should they vote then? Will all their MPs step back and tell them that they merely implemented the will of the people and that the outcome of Brexit is not their responsibility? Denying the people the right to hold their representatives accountable would be truly undemocratic.
I asked the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union a question last week about what impact assessments had been done to estimate the loss of jobs and skills to the UK as a consequence of leaving the European Union. I was told that such information could not be released because it would weaken our negotiating hand. That is extremely worrying for two reasons. First, if the information exists—the Minister who responded did not confirm that such assessments have been carried out—it is not available to the public to read and consider. Secondly, our country’s future prosperity, including our jobs and skilled workers, now depends so heavily on the outcome of a negotiation.
Far from taking back control, we are apparently dependent on what other countries will, or will not, allow. There is so much that we do not know about the consequences of leaving the European Union, either because the Government refuse to reveal it or because it depends on the outcome of negotiations. We have not been given sight of the Government’s White Paper before being asked to consider the Bill. We are effectively being asked to jump out of an airplane without knowing whether we are securely attached to a parachute, and that is not a responsible approach to take to the security and prosperity of our citizens.
If we do make the decision to trigger article 50, our most immediate and pressing goal will be to advance negotiations with our European partners as quickly as possible to provide security and clarity for our citizens, but it is important that we do not just settle for whatever result we can get. We should make a further, active and informed decision that the new deal is a better alternative than remaining in the European Union. The choice should be between those two outcomes. Having held an initial referendum to ask the public to guide our decision making on the issue, we cannot exclude them from the final decision. There needs to be a referendum on the terms so that the people can decide for themselves.
The decisions that we make in this place over the coming days will shape our country for future generations, and we owe it to them to proceed with caution, thoughtfulness and care. My grandparents’ generation gifted us a country free from tyranny, and my parents’ generation gifted us a country of rising prosperity. When I think of the country that I would like my generation to give to our children, I think of a country that lives without fear, poverty and inequality, but we cannot build that world by turning our back on our neighbours, closing the door to our friends, turning a blind eye to tyranny or walking hand in hand with intolerance.
I will vote against the Bill tomorrow not just because I represent a pro-remain party in a pro-remain constituency, nor because I made this commitment to voters during my recent by-election campaign. Most of all, I will vote against the Bill because triggering article 50 is the wrong step for this country to take at this time.
What a pleasure it is to follow Sarah Olney, who has reassured us once again that the Liberal Democrats do not believe in democracy. It is slightly incongruous that they should be in that position.
Today, in fact, we celebrate one of the days that will go down in the annals of British history. There are many years in British history that we can call to mind, such as 1066 or 1215—[Interruption.] How many do you want? Great and famous years include 1346, 1485, 1509, 1588 and 1649, but it is very rare that specific days are commemorated as I think
The judges, though it has taken a year or two, finally agreed that in 1993 my father was right. So there is a virtue in this judicial process, slow and long-winded though it may be.
This is important constitutionally because Dicey’s constitution has been restored. The Queen in Parliament is the sovereign body of our nation. That is so important because, as Dicey argued, it is Parliament that is the defender of the liberties of the people, of our ancient constitution, and of our freedoms.
As a constitutional expert, the hon. Gentleman will be familiar with the judgment in the case of MacCormick vs. The Crown by Lord Cooper in Scotland that parliamentary sovereignty is a purely English concept that has no parallel in Scottish constitutional history. Does he agree, therefore, that the Scottish people can determine their own destiny if we are dragged out of Europe against our will?
The hon. Gentleman will know that following the Act of Union the Westminster Parliament was the inheritor Parliament of both Parliaments, and therefore the two traditions, to some extent, merged in 1707. He is very well aware of that point. The sovereignty of Parliament now applies to the United Kingdom as a whole.
My hon. Friend is, as ever, making a fantastic speech. Following on from the intervention by Ian Blackford, is it not also the case that in the Supreme Court judgment the justices make it clear that we do not need a legislative consent motion, or indeed any consent from any devolved institution, because Dicey’s principle that power devolved is power retained means that this Parliament is always sovereign?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The judgment is completely clear that the Sewel convention is a political convention that it is not within the field of the judiciary to rule on. The judges say that they
“are neither the parents nor the guardians of” the Sewel convention, but they also make it clear that by legislation this Parliament can do anything within the United Kingdom on behalf of the British people.
We need to go back to the beginning. Where does this parliamentary sovereignty come from? We are back to the debates of the 17th century. Parliamentary sovereignty in this country was thought to come either via the King from God or to Parliament via the people. That is where referendums so rightly come in, because the sovereignty we exercise is not sovereignty in a vacuum. It is not sovereignty that has descended on us from on high; it builds up from underneath. The people of the United Kingdom have an absolute right to determine how they are governed, and on