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[2nd day]

Part of European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:03 pm on 1st February 2017.

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Photo of Alison McGovern Alison McGovern Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art 4:03 pm, 1st February 2017

I rise to speak in this debate as a European. I was born a European. Those who supported the Brexit cause told us that if we left the European Union we would be no less European. I say this to them: I will hold them to their word.

I do not believe that the referendum was our finest democratic moment. I disagree with the Brexiteers about that. Many of my constituents have raised serious concerns about the referendum, but that is not what the debate is about any more; it is about the beginning of the most important question that our country has faced for a generation.

We must rapidly move on from the process and on to substance. To those who proudly say that immigration is not a problem in our country’s metropolitan areas and who disparage those areas that feel strongly about it, I say that they are not taking the right approach. We need to understand that all parts of our country have benefited from immigration and that all British people are tolerant and respectful of others. Those are the best of British values, and the Prime Minister is wrong to design an economic policy entirely based on shutting down immigration.

Economic division in our country was the cause and will be the consequence of Brexit. Our economy is designed for London to charge ahead like Singapore, while the northern regions of England are held back like eastern Europe, and that is why people feel left out. The reason for that economic division is that power is hoarded here in this city. People in the north feel that for too long they have not had enough of a say, and they voted to leave as a result. The answer must be to address that power imbalance, never again to hoard power here and to have a truly federal Britain.

In my maiden speech, I said that Wirral was an internationally minded and cultured place. It was then and it is now. To those in our country who have been shocked, horrified, embarrassed and ashamed by the disgraceful racism and xenophobia that we have seen, I say that those are not our values and that is not my country, and we move on from this point with our values at our heart.