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Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, for calling me to speak in this historic debate. Although he is not in his place on the Government Benches, I want to pay tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke, my constituency neighbour, for his wonderful speech. Boy, does he show us how it is all done.
This is a short Bill with huge ramifications for all of us for years to come. Like other Conservative Members, I campaigned for remain, but I accept the democratic vote, and I think we should allow the article 50 notice to be triggered. I agree with those who have said that if we do not do so, the crisis in our democracy that this Bill’s defeat would lead to will help no one.
Yesterday, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union said that the outcome he wanted was a country that was
“stronger, fairer, more united and more outward-looking”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 620, c. 821.]
I agree with him, and the Government’s negotiations must lead to that outcome. As colleagues have said, Parliament must be involved, not just at the start of this process, but throughout and particularly at the end. The manner of the vote at the end of the process is important. Ministers will have noted the amendments that have been tabled about that parliamentary vote, and I hope that they will add to the Prime Minister’s words about that, either in the closing speech tonight or in Committee next week.
I welcome the fact that a White Paper is to be published, and particularly the Prime Minister’s announcement that it will be published tomorrow, but I have been clear that the Bill and the White Paper, which will set out the Prime Minister’s 12 pillars, are separate and should be considered as such.
For me, the tests leading us to a successful new relationship with the European Union are threefold. First, leaving must not undermine our economy. It must not unduly affect the jobs, household finances and financial security of our constituents. I hope we will get a chance to debate that as part of the discussions on the White Paper. Secondly, leaving must not undermine our constitution. That was tested in the courts, and I welcome the decision of the High Court, which has been upheld by the Supreme Court. Finally, leaving must not undermine our values as a country. I thought that Mr Lammy spoke very powerfully about values, as have other Members on both sides of the House, yesterday and today. Upholding values is up to us as Members of Parliament, the Government and Ministers.
I have to be honest: never in my adult life have I felt so concerned about the stability and state of the world in which we live. With the Brexit vote, we have added an extra layer of uncertainty to our world. However, I want to take the Secretary of State at his word when he said yesterday:
“This is just the beginning”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 620, c. 819.]
To paraphrase a great former Prime Minister who believed in a united Europe, the Bill is not the beginning of the end, but may be the end of the beginning, of the Brexit process.