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It is with great pleasure that I rise to speak in this debate on this historic day for Parliament and for this country. None of us who believed in withdrawal from the European Union believed that we would ever see an Order Paper displaying the words, “European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill: Second Reading”. It is a very historic, landmark occasion.
The Bill implements a decision that this Parliament decided to hand to the people. It would be utterly wrong, therefore, to reject what the people of the United Kingdom decided in a national vote. I utterly respect those who have spoken who campaigned hard, enthusiastically and vigorously to remain but are saying that, as Parliament handed the decision to the people, we must respect the will of the people. I have little time for those who argue that we should now engage in procedural games to thwart the will of the people. That is dishonest and undemocratic. I agree with the Liberal Democrats about believing in democracy and listening to the will of the people, so let us get on and implement what the people have said, not engage in efforts to thwart it. This was a national vote across the United Kingdom and everybody’s vote was equal.
I want to address the issues that affect Northern Ireland in particular. It has been said that, because Northern Ireland voted to remain by 56% to 44%, it should not be part of the withdrawal or it should be given a special status. I can think of nothing that would be more calculated to undermine the Union between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom than for Northern Ireland to be able to thwart the will of the people of the United Kingdom as a whole. That would be a deeply anti-Unionist position to take.
It is right and proper that we respect the special needs of Northern Ireland, and we are arguing them vigorously with the Government. We are engaged with this House and with Ministers back home, and that is why I deplore the fact that at this crucial juncture our locally devolved Assembly and Executive have been brought down needlessly. The people who brought it down are the very people who are now making speeches saying, “Brexit undermines the Good Friday agreement.” Thankfully, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has completely demolished that argument and made it clear that nothing in the Good Friday, St Andrews or any other agreement is in any way impaired or imperilled by the decision to leave the European Union. Those who are now complaining the hardest about Northern Ireland have denied themselves a voice by not taking their seats and arguing their case in this House or engaging with Ministers. They have now brought down the elected Government in Northern Ireland, so they do not have any input there, either.
The reality is that of course this presents challenges for Northern Ireland. However, when we kept sterling and the Irish Republic joined the euro along with other European partner nations and states, we were told that it was a massively detrimental act and that it would cause all sorts of major problems on the island of Ireland and lead to all sorts of disruption, both economic and political. None of that happened—people adapted. They were told that we would have to change our currency at the border. Northern Ireland has a different currency from that of the Irish Republic, but trade continues—it is flourishing—and the economy has done extremely well. None of the dire predictions of terrible consequences came to pass.
I am confident that we will see a better future for the United Kingdom and for Northern Ireland. I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to maintaining the common travel area. I reject the idea of a special status for Northern Ireland, and I am glad that the Taoiseach of the Irish Republic rejects it too, because it is code for separating Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom and undermining our—