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2nd Day

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:14 pm on 11th September 2017.

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Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough 4:14 pm, 11th September 2017

Our greatest parliamentary exponent of parliamentary democracy coined the phrase, “In Victory: Magnanimity.” Although, as one or two of my friends know, I am a leaver and my constituency voted 60% to leave, I think that that should be the Government’s approach, both to Parliament in the Chamber and to our European partners and allies. I do not think that it is enough just to allow time on a rainy Thursday on a one-line Whip. The Government should be as generous as possible with time, to allow the House to consider these matters. Personally, I do not see why we could not have three or four days on the Bill, as many people have put in a request to speak. After all, we spend a lot of our time discussing not very much. I would be open-hearted and generous with Parliament.

Before I refer specifically to the Bill, may I say by way of introduction that it would be useful to improve the atmosphere around the process? The truth is that this is a democratic process. Those of us who asked to leave the European Union made our arguments on the basis that we wanted to improve parliamentary democracy and put our people back in charge. That should be our whole approach, and it should be the Government’s approach.

To put that in context, I would be open-hearted and generous in the negotiations between Monsieur Barnier and the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. The important thing is that we are leaving, but I do not see why we should not be generous with the financial settlement. We should be as generous as the law dictates, but there is also the spirit of the law. As we have been in an organisation for 42 years, and as we have decided to leave—it has its own spending plans—I do not see why we should not assist it with some of its spending plans until 2021. After all, if we pay less, others will have to pay more. Some of my closest friends do not agree with that. We have the law on our side, but precisely because of that we can be generous.

On the rights of citizens, I have just spent time with Italian Senators who are visiting the building, and with the Italian ambassador. We need to be open-hearted and generous towards European citizens who live here, and proclaim now that we are absolutely committed to preserving their rights and those of every EU citizen, on benefits—[Interruption.] I know that we have done it, but we should keep repeating that we are determined to protect those rights. We should be open-hearted and generous in dealing with the House of Commons, in dealing with money, and in dealing with the rights of EU citizens. If we approach life and these negotiations in that spirit, doors might begin to open.

I listened to the shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union—a brilliant lawyer. We are both lawyers. I am just a jobbing barrister doing criminal law in London. That is what I did when I was a young man. I cannot possibly match his debating skills. He does have a point, and we Conservatives should recognise that. My right hon. Friend Anna Soubry has a point; Frank Field has a point; my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke has a point. I will, of course, vote for the Bill, because that is what the people want me to do, and it is what my constituents want me to do. There is no alternative, but amendments will be tabled when we are sitting in a Committee of the whole House. I serve on the Panel of Chairs, and I know the Government’s position is always to reject all amendments. This time, they should be positive if something improves parliamentary scrutiny. We are going to get our way; the Government have a majority, supported by the Democratic Unionist party. We should be generous with our Scottish friends. If they have a genuine desire to ensure that powers from the EU do not come to the Westminster Parliament but go to the Scottish Parliament, we should be generous towards them.

There is a lot of false anger. I have sat through many debates in which shadow Secretaries of State puffed themselves up. We have heard a lot about Henry VIII. When I was a rebel I used to care about these things. Now I am a loyalist I let the Government get away with it in many ways. Henry VIII is a bastard, but he is my kind of bastard.

I have made my point. Listen to the House, accept some amendments and ensure that this process is time limited. The key thing for our constituents is this: that we leave the EU at the end of March 2019; that any implementation period lasts only two years; and that we then become an open, free-trading nation with the whole world, with a free trade agreement with the EU. Stick to the essentials, be confident, be generous with the House and we will win this battle.