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[2nd day]

Part of European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:12 pm on 1st February 2017.

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Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee 4:12 pm, 1st February 2017

Like my Conservative colleagues, I stood in the general election on a manifesto that promised an in/out referendum and promised to respect the result. I campaigned hard before the referendum for this country to stay in the European Union. It pains me that my side lost, but honour and decency bind me to the pledge I made before the referendum, and I will vote to support the Government tonight.

That said, it is also my duty to my constituents and to the country, as it is for all of us, to make sure that we get the best possible outcome thereafter. To my mind, that means the following. First, in my constituency, some 35% of people work in the financial and professional services sector. That is one of the highest percentages anywhere in the country. It is critical that that key economic interest of the United Kingdom be central to our negotiating objectives. In my judgment, it should not be regarded as secondary to anything. If we have to, we should be prepared to make pragmatic compromises to secure the welfare of that key economic sector.

Secondly, we should not forget the interests of our territory of Gibraltar. It does not have anyone to speak for it here, but I shall take the liberty of doing so. Its economy must be protected and its border flows must be uninterrupted and free. Thirdly, we must make sure that our parliamentary sovereignty is real. We are acting in accordance with the process set down by our highest courts, where the judges acted in accordance with their judicial oaths and constitutional duty. That should be accepted, and they should be commended for having done so. That means that Parliament must now be prepared to have proper control of the process.

I welcome the commitment to publishing the White Paper, and I accept the words and good faith of the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, but there are two other things we must do. First, it is very important as we go forward that Parliament has the maximum information available to it. In particular, it would be quite wrong if Parliament at any stage had less information than our European counterparts. Secondly, the pledge of a vote in both Houses on the final deal must be a meaningful one. That means it must be a vote before the deal is put to our European counterparts for ratification, otherwise it will be a Hobson’s choice of little value. I hope that Ministers will reflect very carefully on those key points as the Bill makes progress through the House.