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[2nd day]

Part of European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:52 pm on 1st February 2017.

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Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Housing) 5:52 pm, 1st February 2017

I agreed with Alistair Burt when he said that this was a debate he hoped would never happen, and a vote he hoped would never happen. I am a strong remainer, and I campaigned hard for us to stay in the EU. I still think our future would be better within it, but I recognise the result of the British people who voted for Brexit. I also recognise, however, that my Durham constituency, in line with many university cities, voted strongly to remain.

I was worried about the result on 23 June. The north-east has only 1.6% of the population who are foreign-born, and hardly any of them live in Durham, yet in the campaign immigration was the most commonly cited reason for voting leave. It arose because people felt that their views were not being taken into account and that their access to jobs and services was diminishing—not least because of the austerity policies of other parties, which took vital resources out of our most impoverished communities.

I think that we failed to address those concerns in this House. We obviously have to tackle xenophobia and racism, and we have to change our immigration policies. I hope we find a way of doing that without simply withdrawing from the single market, which will create as many problems as it solves. We have also had four decades of negative press about Europe, and it was impossible to overturn it within a few months and make the positive case not only for the EU but for upholding human rights and active participation in global institutions that do so much to maintain peace and to create prosperity in the world. I hope we shall continue to take the international, outward-looking approach that is necessary, and reject the policies of Trump and isolationism.

I was very pleased that my constituents voted to remain, because the impact of Brexit on the north-east will be huge. We have a positive balance of trade, with 58% of our exports going to Europe, but we have no idea whether that will continue if trade barriers arise. We need to hear more from the Government about what will happen to our automotive industries, our universities, our advanced manufacturing, and businesses that are receiving money from the European social fund and the European regional development fund. That would help to create some stability. Our young people, most of whom voted to remain, also need to hear how the Government will deliver a more prosperous country. That is why I think we should adopt Labour’s amendments, and ensure that we have a vote on the final Brexit deal.

I know that my constituents voted to remain, but I recognise that the country voted for Brexit, and I shall abstain in this evening’s vote.