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[2nd day]

Part of European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:06 pm on 1st February 2017.

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Photo of Mike Gapes Mike Gapes Labour/Co-operative, Ilford South 3:06 pm, 1st February 2017

I am not replaying the arguments. I am dealing with realities. It is interesting to note that, at the last general election in 2015, the hon. Gentleman may have stood on a manifesto in which his party said yes to the single market. It also said that it would hold a referendum: it had a mandate to do that. But as the former Europe Minister, Mr Lidington, said in June 2015:

“The referendum is advisory, as was the case for both the 1975 referendum on Europe and the Scottish independence vote last year.”—[Official Report, 16 June 2015;
Vol. 597, c. 231.]

This Parliament must decide how, when and if the referendum should be implemented. The problem with the position that is being taken by both Front Benches is that triggering article 50 early will place us on an escalator travelling in one direction, with no ability to get off. A legal process is taking place in the Irish courts at this moment about whether—about the possibilities, the implications—article 50 is reversible. We do not know the judgment yet. Why on earth are we triggering before we know the legal position on article 50? Why have our Government decided to go for the hardest possible leaving of the EU—no customs union, no Euratom, problems for Gibraltar, and problems for the Northern Ireland peace process and the Good Friday agreement? All those things have been done before we know whether we could decide in a year’s time, or perhaps in two years’ time, before this process is complete.

We need not be on this escalator. We need a means to stop this process, and that is why we need clarity before we start triggering it. We did not need to trigger it in March this year; we could have waited. This did not need to be done before the French election and the German election.

The reality is that the ratification process requires decisions in 27 national Parliaments, in the regional Parliaments of Wallonia and elsewhere in Belgium, and in the European Parliament. If we have that process, we will have a narrow window of opportunity—perhaps just about a year from the autumn of this year to the autumn of 2018—and then there will have to be a ratification process. We will not get a good agreement. We could be in the disastrous position of going off the cliff with no agreement at all—with the terrible economic consequences of World Trade Organisation terms only. That would be an unmitigated disaster for my constituents and for the country.

I am doing what Mr Clarke talked about yesterday: I am voting as Members of Parliament should—I am following my own judgment and I am listening to my constituents and to the country.