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[2nd day]

Part of European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:33 pm on 1st February 2017.

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Labour, Rhondda 3:33 pm, 1st February 2017

At the very first hustings I attended in 2001, at Treorchy comprehensive school, the first question I was asked was, “Will you always vote with your conscience?” I recently visited Ysgol Cymer, also in my constituency, and asked members of the school council how I should vote today, after setting out the problems involved. Every single one of them said, “With your conscience”, and that is what I intend to do. I am a democrat, and most of those in my constituency voted in a different way from me. I am a democrat, but I believe in a form of democracy that never silences minorities. The 48% in this country and, for that matter, the 46% or 45% in my constituency, or whatever the figure was, have a right to a voice, so today I am voting and speaking on behalf of a minority of my constituents.

All my life I have believed that the best form of patriotism is internationalism. My first political memories are of Franco’s guards in Spain. I was thrown out of Chile in 1986 for attending the funeral of a lad who had been set on fire by Pinochet’s police. I distrust politicians who spuriously use the national security argument to launch campaigns against migrants, refugees and ethnic minorities. I fear the turn this world is taking towards narrow nationalism, protectionism and demagoguery. Distrust of those who are different from us can all too often, although not always, turn to hatred of foreigners. That way lies the trail to war.

I know that is not the tradition of the Rhondda. We were built on migrants from England, Scotland, Ireland and Italy. This country was built on the sweat, the courage, the ingenuity and the get up and go of Huguenots, Normans, Protestants fleeing the inquisition, Irish Catholics fleeing famine, Jews escaping persecution, Polish airmen, Spanish nurses, Indian doctors and Afro-Caribbeans who wanted to help make this country great.

I have stood at every election on a platform and a party manifesto that said we would stay in the European Union. That was my solemn vow to the voters of the Rhondda. I admit that I lost the vote, including in my constituency, but I have not lost my faith. It remains my deep conviction that leaving the European Union, especially on the terms that the Government seem to expect, will do untold damage to my constituents, especially the poorest of them.