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[2nd day]

Part of European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:17 pm on 1st February 2017.

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Photo of David Davies David Davies Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee 5:17 pm, 1st February 2017

About 20 years ago, my political career was launched on the back of a failed referendum campaign, when I and many others failed to prevent the Welsh Assembly from being set up. I am reminded very much of those days at the moment because the campaign in Wales was also very divisive. All sorts of promises were made that have never actually been kept. It was a huge constitutional change for us. There were divisions, threats and altercations in Wales. When John Prescott, who was Deputy Prime Minister at the time, went to Newport town centre, one of his spin doctors ordered a young campaigner off the streets, saying, “I have the Deputy Prime Minister’s authority for doing this.” The resulting fracas made the third bong on “News at 10”. I will not reveal the identity of the person involved—[Interruption.] Yes, alright then, it was me.

As we looked upon the wreckage of that campaign, a great discussion took place in Cardiff. We said, “Only one in four people have voted for this Welsh Assembly”—it went through on a much narrower margin than the referendum that we have just had. We asked, “What are we going to do?” Some of us—I was probably one of the diehards—said, “Let’s carry on fighting it in Parliament, get back out there in the media and redo the whole campaign.” I did not think about the courts at the time but, then, we did not have any hedge funders behind us, otherwise I probably would have done.

There were wiser voices, such as those of: Lord Bourne, now the Communities and Local Government Minister; the Brexit Minister himself, my right hon. Friend Mr Jones, who sits on the Front Bench and does such a good job for us; and the Secretary of State for Wales. They have all done very well. Those wiser people said, “We have to accept it. We don’t have to admit that we were wrong, but we have to admit that, on this occasion, the people have said one thing and we have to go along with it.” They were so right. I was wrong to say that we should have carried on fighting it because, as a result, we got involved with the national assembly advisory group, drew up the Standing Orders and put up candidates. We are now the second party in Wales, and we are close to becoming the first party there as a result of what took place. Look how well the Ministers I mentioned have done as a result. Who knows what might happen one day?

That is the reality of what we have before us now. People are talking about divisions. There were divisions all right during the referendum campaign. Those divisions need to end—we all agree on that. However, they will not end when so many people—they were in a minority—although acting for the best reasons and feeling they are doing the right thing continue to try to fight this campaign. They should stop fighting and become part of what is going to take place now, because the people of this country have spoken.