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[2nd day]

Part of European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 2:53 pm on 1st February 2017.

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Photo of Richard Benyon Richard Benyon Conservative, Newbury 2:53 pm, 1st February 2017

I am not one to brag, but I humbly suggest that I know something about how to negotiate in Europe. My personal best was what the civil service calls “a three-shirter”—three days and two nights of continuous negotiation. I wish my right hon. and hon. Friends well as they enter this process, and I ask them to ignore all those who suggest that they might like to share with us and the world every single red line and every single negotiating nuance, because nothing would be likely to secure a worse deal for this House and this country.

I have to break it gently to some Members and some of the people deluging our in-boxes that most people out there are not absolutely fascinated by the politics of Brexit, but are rooted in the realities of it. This is about the small family farming business in the Berkshire downs concerned about what Brexit means for them; the life sciences company in Newbury that wants to sell its world-beating products to health services in Europe; and companies that will be part of consortia or supply chains, some of which will be in, some of which will be outside, the European Union, and how it will work for them. It is about people who want to study abroad and people who are concerned about the future of our environment.

The experience of the referendum campaign was, for me, a miserable one. It was a new low in the political discourse of the nation, and I put the blame for that on both sides. As the dust settles, I, like many in the House, have a choice—whether to play the role of some sort of parliamentary insurgent, finding devious mechanisms with which to do down the view taken by the public in an open and fair referendum; or whether to represent the views of our constituents, the vast majority of them, who want us to act in their best interests and who understand that the Government face a heavy burden as they seek to achieve an orderly exit.

One notable voice is absent from our debates in these historic proceedings—that of my hon. Friend Nick Boles. He wrote an article, difficult though it must have been for him in the middle of his treatment for cancer, that was full of intelligence and common sense. It had an understanding of what it is to be a liberal Conservative at a time like this. He reminded us that we need to look forward to a world in which we can have a decent, open and generous relationship with our European partners. That is what we believe, not just because it is in our nature, but because free trade and a belief in markets are important to us. The article is also a reminder of why we want our hon. Friend back here in good health in the near future. He reminded us that we need to co-operate on issues such as climate change, science, countering terrorism and all the other things that matter to us; and that we should show generosity and decency to our partners and reject the kind of insular, backward-looking and small Britain that has infected this debate for too long.

I, as a remainer who thinks that the country has taken a wrong turn, will passionately support this Bill tonight. I give those on the Treasury Bench full notice that I shall at every available opportunity hold them to account to ensure that we reach the best deal for our constituents and all the people of our country—and do that in a constructive way.