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[2nd day]

Part of European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:37 pm on 1st February 2017.

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Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Conservative, The Cotswolds 4:37 pm, 1st February 2017

This is an historic debate. I was in the Chamber during the Maastricht debates 25 years ago: it has been a long time. The British people voted by a margin of 1.35 million to leave the European Union, and two thirds of the constituencies in the country voted to leave. I respect all my constituents who voted to remain—and The Cotswolds voted very narrowly to remain: it was 51% to 49%—and I totally reject the Liberal Democrats’ assertion that I cannot represent those constituents.

The British people, through this referendum, have regained the sovereignty of this Parliament. We will no longer be subject to the directives and regulations laid down by Brussels. We will regain control of our borders, and, above all, we will be able to reassure the Europeans who are living in this country that they are welcome here, provided that our European partners give reciprocal rights to us. Shorn of the EU competence for trade, we will be able to regain our old entrepreneurial spirit and go round the world, trading openly with all its nations. Some people assert that the peace in Europe has been maintained by the European Union. I say that the peace in Europe has been maintained by NATO—and it is absolutely right for our Prime Minister to ensure that all NATO members abide by their obligation to spend 2% of their GDP on defence.

As many speakers have said during this debate, we shall not be leaving Europe. We shall be leaving the European Union, but the Europeans will still be neighbours and friends. I think that, pragmatically, we will do a deal for this country that will be in the interests of all its people. It is a byzantinely complex negotiation on which our colleagues on the Front Bench are about to embark. I say to them that we have an absolute duty to get the best deal that we possibly can for this country. However, I am confident that when our partners look at what we have to offer them and what they have to offer us, it will, pragmatically, be in their interests to make sure we do a deal that suits both of us.

We will reset our relationship with Europe: it will be an easier relationship; it will be a relationship that all parts of this kingdom can relate to—whether that is England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. I simply say to our Scottish nationalist friends, echoing the soothsayer in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”: beware of referendums—you cannot be certain what the result will be.