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[2nd day]

Part of European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 1:41 pm on 1st February 2017.

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Photo of Geoffrey Robinson Geoffrey Robinson Labour, Coventry North West 1:41 pm, 1st February 2017

I will be brief and to the point, as many other hon. Members want to take part in the debate. We have heard some remarkable contributions, and I will mention two that were made yesterday. The former Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Clegg and Mr Clarke, who has just left the Chamber so will not hear my remarks, challenged everyone who will be voting in favour of this Bill tonight, as I will be, to examine our consciences. They particularly challenged those of us—I strongly count myself among this number—who voted, argued and campaigned for a remain vote. I believe that, as we lost the vote, we have to face the consequences, although the former Deputy Prime Minister and the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe feel that we should not.

My right hon. Friend Edward Miliband also said that this is an issue of conscience. I regret to some extent that we will be voting on a three-line Whip, as it is a deeply moral, conscious decision that we all have to take. However, I would have much more difficultly justifying and coming to terms with my conscience if I were to vote against the Bill and, effectively, in favour of delaying and frustrating the beginning of the negotiations and, therefore, the whole process of leaving the European Union. We have only to re-read the referendum question. It was so simple, asking:

“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”

There were no ifs or buts. It was a simple question understood by everybody who took part in the referendum. It is no good now to say that the referendum was really only advisory and that we should have a second referendum or a confirmatory vote.

I campaigned widely in the west midlands, strongly on the remain ticket. I went out of my way to warn my constituents about the economic consequences, although warnings, particularly from the then Chancellor, may have been overdone throughout the whole campaign, which did not particularly help us. I warned people that the referendum was a one-off, that it was a yes or no question and that there would be no second referendum or further bite at the cherry if we did not like the outcome. Members who are telling us that tonight’s vote is a matter of conscience for those who were on the remain side and who felt strongly about remaining, as I did, believe that we should vote against the Bill. On the contrary, there is not a conceivable material argument for doing so. Indeed, to do so would be to betray the very basis on which we conducted the referendum; that is certainly what I spoke to, and I believe that it is what all Members who actively took part in the referendum spoke to.

We come to the question of how this House can be involved in and influence the negotiations. My experience of negotiations—business and others—tells me that we have to get real about this. The issues and choices will become clearer once we are in negotiations. I agree with the former Chancellor, who brings us great advice from Davos and other centres of learning, that perhaps economics will not be the big issue of the negotiations. However, the outcome on the economic and trading front is the essence of what this is really about for working people. My advice is simply this: soft Brexit and a transition period. Anything else would predict a harsh and uncomfortable future for the working people of this country.