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[2nd day]

Part of European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:51 pm on 1st February 2017.

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Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley 3:51 pm, 1st February 2017

I have listened to this debate for the past couple of days, and I can quite understand why constituents feel that we are voting on coming out of the European Union tonight. We are not. The Bill is a simple and straightforward matter that simply puts us back to what we believe the situation was before the Supreme Court judgment. That is all the Bill does.

I disagree with those who tell me that the referendum was only advisory. In our manifesto, we said explicitly that we would accept the result of the referendum whatever it was. The referendum effectively ceased to be advisory at that point. No one has ever said how voting against giving the Prime Minister permission to start article 50 negotiations complies with that, or indeed how we could ever be trusted again to take democratic decisions in the interests of the people.

Those like me who voted to remain need to accept that we lost the argument and the vote—but I am not throwing in the towel. Like my right hon. Friend Alistair Burt, I am doing all that I can to work on the aspects that are needed to take us forward. That includes, for example, this morning’s meeting of the Justice Committee in which we had yet another session with leading lawyers about what we need to carry forward in the justice system.

Both Houses of Parliament have already spent 60 hours discussing the EU and our leaving of it. That is 60 hours of debate to which the Front-Bench team has listened.

Let me quickly comment on two things. The first is the term “hard Brexit”. It is one of the laziest forms of journalism I have ever heard. It is a great shame that it has been used in this House. How maintaining the common travel area with Ireland and the rights of EU nationals in Britain, and protecting workers’ rights and the best places for science and innovation can possibly be called a hard Brexit, I do not know.

I would like Ministers to give us some confidence on the issue of Euratom. The Joint European Torus project is located at Culham in my constituency. I heard what the Secretary of State said yesterday, but I would like some reassurance, because it was negotiating in good faith and then this suddenly occurred.