Brexit and Foreign Affairs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:31 pm on 26th June 2017.

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Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Conservative, Preseli Pembrokeshire 7:31 pm, 26th June 2017

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak so early in the debate. It is a pleasure to follow Stephen Gethins; I enjoyed listening to his speech and appreciate the spirit in which he made it. I think that many Members on both sides of the House will wish to return to the theme of working together pragmatically. It will certainly inform some of the remarks that I make in the next few minutes.

I have not taken many of the opportunities that we have had in this House over the past 12 months to speak about Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. In part that is because I had campaigned strongly for us to remain and on referendum day found myself part of the minority in the country, and certainly in my constituency, which voted strongly to leave. I have spent part of the past year trying to understand what drove that vote, not least in my constituency and across Wales, and how the debate is evolving. I have one or two observations to make.

First, I have been deeply impressed by the pragmatic and assiduous approach taken by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State over the past 10 months. I think that it has been appreciated on both sides of the House and, judging by what people on the continent tell me, deeply valued in the discussions with our European counterparts. Listening to his remarks today, and to those of the shadow Secretary of State, the newly right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), I was struck by the fluidity and room for manoeuvre that exists in both Front-Bench positions.

That fluidity might reflect different shades of opinion within the Government, and certainly within the Opposition, on how we should take forward the Brexit negotiations, but it also reflects a level of pragmatism. Listening to both Front Benchers this afternoon, I asked myself whether a pragmatic centre ground might be emerging around which Members on both sides could coalesce. One of the things I took from the general election campaign is that the country remains hopelessly divided on this issue. If we in this Chamber are to do anything over the next two years, it should be to provide some kind of leadership that helps bring the country together.