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[2nd day]

Part of European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:55 pm on 1st February 2017.

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Photo of Helen Whately Helen Whately Conservative, Faversham and Mid Kent 4:55 pm, 1st February 2017

This evening I will vote to begin the formal process of leaving the European Union because, though I voted remain, the referendum result was clear. In my constituency, and in the country as a whole, the majority voted to leave. Had the result gone the other way, all of us who voted remain would have expected that result to be honoured. Whether voting to remain or voting to leave, British people voted last year in the expectation that the Government would enact the result, so we must see it through.

The referendum has shone a light on the divisions in British society. There is a divide between those for whom life is working out and full of opportunity and those for whom life seems to be going nowhere. If we think that people are angry and divided now, just think what anger there would be if MPs rejected the referendum result, effectively telling so many voters that they got it wrong. The Government’s job now is to make a success of Brexit and, in so doing, truly tackle the problems that the referendum laid bare.

As a first step, we must give the Prime Minister the scope to negotiate the best possible Brexit deal. To those who ask for more and more detail at this time, I say—drawing on my experience of negotiating business deals, albeit at a much smaller scale—that giving away more detail does not generally enable people to secure a better deal. We need to be clear, as the Prime Minister has been, that we will walk away if we do not get a good deal.

To those who want a second referendum to choose between a final deal and staying in, I ask: could there be any stronger incentive for the European Union to offer us unattractive exit terms? Proposing a second referendum may be in their political interest, but it is clearly not in the UK’s interest.

Now we must get on with it and use this time of change as an opportunity to frame the sort of country that we want to emerge—an open Britain, engaged with Europe and the world, that offers opportunities to all with the confidence and identity that enables people to be tolerant and welcoming. That is the task ahead when we have honoured the referendum result and enacted the Bill.