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I shall be as brief as I can. It is slightly depressing when, because of collusion between the Front Benchers, the result is, as everybody knows, a foregone conclusion. Eric Forth, whom many of us will remember, always used to say that when the Front Benchers agree with each other, it is time for the House to be at its most active in examining precisely what that alliance means.
My hon. Friend Mr Betts mentioned the fact that yesterday my hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer said this is a very difficult issue for the Labour party—and indeed it is. I think it is a very difficult issue for every Member, presenting us with a paradox in knowing what is the right thing to do. Some say the result of the referendum means that supporting the Bill is the right thing to do, while others disagree, saying that their duty to their constituents transcends even party loyalties.
Let me make my position perfectly clear. I am in a very fortunate position. As I told the Prime Minister during her statement on the Monday after the referendum, on
My constituents have written to me in unprecedented numbers—I am sure that most Members will have had more contact with, and information from, constituents over this issue than just about any other; it certainly applies to me in my 25 years in this place—urging me to support the constituency’s vote. I will support their objection to leaving the European Union, and I will vote against Second Reading tonight. I will vote for the SNP amendment and against the programme motion—and I will continue to do so. I say to my Front-Bench team that I will be active next week, when the Bill is in Committee. I will seek to amend it, but I will vote against Third Reading as well. I will not be complicit in something that I know and feel to be wrong, and to be against the best interests not just of my constituents or this city, of which my constituency is a small part, but of the whole country and all its people. Anything else—whatever negotiations take place, whatever agreements are made—will be sub-optimal. Reform of the European Union, staying in the European Union and leading the campaign of reform was in the best interests of the British people, and I will do nothing now to undermine their position.
People have mentioned the status of European Union citizens in this country. I am sure that the Prime Minister is in earnest, and is being genuine, when she says that she wants to secure early agreement on reciprocal arrangements in Europe for British nationals living in EU countries. I say, as do others, that the answer is in her own hands. She can reassure EU nationals living in this country now by saying that their future, and that of their families, is secure. She can then go, quite rightly, to the chambers and the councils of Europe, and say, “We demand the same from you.” [Hon. Members: “What if they say no?”] There is only one reason why I would ever turn my back on the European Union and agree that we should leave. I would only do that if members of the EU denied British citizens the right that we can give to EU nationals.