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[2nd day]

Part of European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:43 pm on 1st February 2017.

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Photo of James Cartlidge James Cartlidge Conservative, South Suffolk 4:43 pm, 1st February 2017

It is a pleasure to follow Seema Malhotra. Like her, I campaigned for remain, and I did it passionately. I argued that if we left, we would miss the opportunity to be the largest country in the EU that was not in the euro. That is an amazing position, but it is gone, and I accept that. Like the hon. Lady, I will support the Bill. I would, in the most extraordinary way, be reneging on my vote for the European Union Referendum Act 2015—one of the first pieces of legislation I voted for as a new MP—if I now turned against it just because I campaigned for the remain side.

However, that does not mean that I do not have concerns, and there are two primary areas where I am worried about the future. The first is trade. At all costs, we must avoid a game of protectionist chicken with the EU. That could happen, particularly given what is going on in Washington, where we have an openly protectionist President. This is not “Project Fear”, but hon. Members should be under no illusion: if protectionism breaks out on both sides of the Atlantic, we could have a severe economic crisis, and we know where that finishes.

The other point is on immigration. It is absolutely right that we cannot control immigration from the EU unless we leave, but we cannot reduce the numbers, which is what the country actually wants, unless we have a native British workforce who are willing and able, and available in sufficient numbers, to step into the breach if the immigration shutters come down. I recently joined the Work and Pensions Committee. We have held evidence sessions on this and heard from employers who are completely dependent on migrant labour and struggle to recruit locally, including in the care sector and construction, which are vital parts of our economy. We should not pretend to the British people that immigration will be slashed if we leave.

It is particularly important that we discuss one part of this topic, and I might not agree with all my colleagues on it. At the moment, it is not true that there are no restrictions on EU migration. At the moment, legally, people cannot come to this country as an unskilled migrant—which, by the way, includes many skilled people; that is just an immigration term—if they are from outside the EU. They can only legally come in from within the EU, and I think that we should be very cautious about changing that, because the British people might like the idea of going global, but I do not think they would support globalising unskilled migration to this country, which is by far the largest part of it. We need to debate that and be open about it.

Having said all that, I voted for the referendum Act and we must implement the will of the people. As many of my colleagues have said, we are democrats, and we should do this in a way that is open and united, because if the national interest at this moment is best served by maximum unity, a show of strength by Parliament—