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[2nd day]

Part of European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 2:31 pm on 1st February 2017.

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Photo of Graham Allen Graham Allen Labour, Nottingham North 2:31 pm, 1st February 2017

George Orwell said:

“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

I would like to try to tell some truths in the brief time I have.

Every Prime Minister in my political lifetime has fostered the elitism that bit back in the referendum. Those leaders held that the European project was far too precious to share with our people. They failed to build a British vision for a reformed EU, and they failed to build a credible immigration policy with the public. They fed the beast that roared last June and we all bear some responsibility for that.

Fear of the hard right in the Conservative party has led two Prime Ministers to gamble recklessly with the future of our country. One called a referendum he never thought he would lose; the other has been pushed into triggering exit before even thinking through how it will actually happen. Weakness and incompetence then, weakness and incompetence now. One lesson we should all learn is that never again should a complex economic and international issue be reduced to an “X Factor”-style plebiscite.

Last week, embarrassingly, the British Government were caught acting unconstitutionally by the Supreme Court, when trying to use a Trumpian style Executive order to bypass Parliament on exit. The Government’s fear of Parliament, even one whose agenda it controls, led to wasted months fighting a legal action when every MP could have been put to work helping to craft the best exit deal for the UK; time the Prime Minister could have used to tour the capitals of Europe to work out a position and build the goodwill we will need to get us a good deal. The Government are doing the bare minimum they think they can get away with, without being in contempt of court. They do this by bringing this derisory and undernourished Bill before Parliament. No apology. No White Paper. No plan for leaving the EU. Today, we are meant to meekly aid and abet this incompetence, and buckle to the dog whistle threat that if MPs dare to do their job and believe in parliamentary sovereignty the wrath of the social media mob and the Conservative press will be unleashed against us. I ask my colleagues to show some strength today. This day will not be repeated. This is the moment that, in 10 years’ time, they will think about what they chose to do.

We are not voting on in or out. That is history. That has been decided. We are voting on whether we believe that the Government are ready to trigger article 50, when clearly they are not. The emperor has no White Paper. Let us take heart from the judges who stood firm in doing their duty despite the “enemies of the people” media headlines. Let us take heart from Gina Miller and individual citizens who have held the Government to account, acting where this supine Parliament feared to even seek legal clarification of its own rights before the courts.

Yes, we should vote for a Bill authorising exit from the European Union, but we should do that when we have done our duty on due diligence: when we and our constituents know what the Government have planned, which of the thousands of exit permutations they are going for, and how they want to meaningfully involve Parliament. The Bill is not about ignoring the referendum result, it is about realising it and ensuring that our whole democracy works to secure the best deal possible: unifying our nation, not glorying in its division into winners and losers.