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[2nd day]

Part of European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 2:49 pm on 1st February 2017.

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Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee 2:49 pm, 1st February 2017

As my hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit Secretary, said at the beginning of the debate, this is very difficult for many of us on the Opposition side of the Chamber. I strongly supported remain in the referendum campaign, and I did so because I believed it was in the interests of the country and the constituency I represent. I thought that the economic arguments advanced by the remain campaign would, in the end, succeed, but that was not the case. In the end, I did not ask the people for their views in order not to listen to what they said.

I accept that a vote for this Bill only opens the exit door, but ultimately it is likely to mean that, as a result, we leave the EU. In the end, I will listen to my constituents and their views, because my constituency voted overwhelmingly to leave. The reason my constituents gave me on the doorstep was that many of them felt left behind by economic progress over a number of decades; they felt they were not in control of their lives; they felt that we, the political class as their representatives, were not listening to them. One of the fundamental issues of concern related to unrestricted immigration from the EU. That is the honest information that they gave to me, which I am relaying to the House.

People who are not racists still have genuine concerns about the impact on their public services and their jobs, pay and conditions from that unrestricted immigration. Those concerns were expressed to me by people from different ethnic backgrounds—people from the Pakistani, Kashmiri, Bangladeshi and Somali communities, as well white British residents. I feel that if we now fail to listen to those genuinely held concerns, the disillusionment with politicians and politics will simply grow, and we risk driving those people into the arms of the racists, who actually do want to put forward a completely different agenda.

At the same time I recognise that although I will vote for the Bill, it is still important for Sheffield’s industry to have free access to EU markets. My constituents do not want to pay tariffs on imports from the EU; they want assurances that the food they eat in the future will be safe, as it is now; they want to see co-operation on environmental matters, on defence, on security and on science and research; and they want to keep the same employment rights and protections as they now enjoy. They do not want to see a race to the bottom to reduce taxation on corporate matters so that we can compete with offshore tax havens elsewhere.

In the end, if we are to keep those issues on the agenda, it is important that Parliament is regularly updated on progress on the discussions, and this Parliament must have a vote on the final outcome, just as the European Parliament will. I still have concerns about voting for the Bill—concerns that I felt when I argued strongly for remain in the referendum. In the end, though, I am more concerned about the damage to democracy if I do not vote for the Bill.