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[2nd day]

Part of European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:46 pm on 1st February 2017.

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Photo of Ben Howlett Ben Howlett Conservative, Bath 5:46 pm, 1st February 2017

It is a pleasure to follow John Nicolson, who is a passionate advocate of Scottish issues. It is a pleasure also to see that you have recovered from the curried nut incident last night, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I am afraid that this is a speech I never wanted to give and a Bill I never wanted to see, but I feel compelled to speak in this historic debate. Having listened to the debate over the last two days, and harking back in particular to the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke and his quote from Edmund Burke, I know that the decision I take must be in the interests of my country—for us to do anything else would lead to unimaginable consequences. My hon. Friend Mr Bone was also quite right that we have to put country first, constituency second and party last. That is why I have come to the decision I have on the Bill.

Hon. Members will know that I campaigned passionately on behalf of the remain campaign, and the majority of Bath residents—70%—voted, like me, to remain inside the EU. I have not changed my views, and rest assured I will continue to advocate them. Like other hon. Members, I have received thousands of emails and letters, from those on both sides of the debate, on whether I should vote to trigger article 50 and allow the Government to begin the formal negotiations. However, the referendum campaign was fought, the vote was held, the turnout was high and the public gave their verdict. The country voted to leave the EU, and it is the democratic duty of this sovereign Parliament and Government to ensure we do just that.

Had the result been in reverse, I would have hoped that the leave campaign respected the democratic decision of the British people in exactly the same way. It is incumbent on us all to come together as one nation to seek the best possible deal with the EU—a new partnership between an independent, self-governing, global Britain and our friends and allies in the EU. I have called consistently for a White Paper, which I am pleased will be published tomorrow, as I want to ensure that my constituents and, in particular, my businesses, which have been somewhat ignored in our debates, can more systematically feed in their views.

If we are to leave the EU, we must not delay any further. To do so would frustrate our European friends and allies and probably weaken our negotiating hand. I would like clarity soon from the Government about the final vote. Given that the Supreme Court ruled to ensure the introduction of this Bill, I wonder how it would rule if the Government used the prerogative to approve no deal.

I will vote to trigger article 50 tonight, and I implore all Members to do the same.