2nd Day

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:15 pm on 11th September 2017.

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Photo of Simon Clarke Simon Clarke Conservative, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland 6:15 pm, 11th September 2017

In an excellent speech on Thursday, Yvette Cooper referred to the fact that we are sent here on the wings of ballot papers sent in by our constituents. That is a precious right, and I agree with her that it is one that we should observe and uphold. I was sent here with a very clear message from my constituents, who on 23 June 2016 voted decisively to leave the European Union. They did so, contrary to what Caroline Lucas says, in full knowledge of what that entailed: self-government over federalism, democracy over bureaucracy, and economic liberalism over protectionism. It is important to note, of course, that the third of my voters who voted to remain have accepted the result, and now simply wish for our departure from the EU to be as smooth and orderly as possible. That is why we need this Bill. Indeed, it is not an exaggeration to say that we cannot have that without this Bill.

So let us be clear about the Bill’s function. This is not a Bill about whether we stay in or leave the EU; that decision was taken by our bosses, the British people, last year. Likewise, it is not a Bill about the substance of the withdrawal agreement; that is a matter for ongoing negotiation between Ministers and Brussels. The primary purpose of the Bill is simply to provide the legal continuity and certainty on exit day that I think all of us want.

To be clear, we have to do this. The House of Commons Library states that once the European Communities Act is repealed on exit day, without the legislative measures proposed in this Bill,

“huge holes would open up within the statute book”.

The Opposition talk a good game about Henry VIII and power grabs, but the Secretary of State was crystal clear on Thursday that the Bill will not be used to make material changes, and he made welcome commitments that he will consider sensible suggestions at Committee stage, and that is the point—this will happen in Committee.

If we vote down this Bill this evening, as Opposition Members want to do, we will be torpedoing the whole principle of the Bill, not the substance of the individual suggestions in it. We will be preventing the very chance of making the amendments that people want to see. It is hard to avoid the feeling that for some Members this is less about parliamentary scrutiny and more about parliamentary sophistry—that is to say, frustrating our best chance of making a success of Brexit. That is something I passionately believe in, although I accept some do not. The point is that we are all in this together, so we need to make this work. I put it to Members who represent seats that voted heavily to leave that they should reflect, as I have, on what message we would send out if we set about obfuscating their clearly expressed will in any way.

Caroline Flint made a powerful speech earlier, joining those given by the hon. Members for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) and for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) and Frank Field. They understand the nature of the mandate we have been given. This is an extraordinary, once-in-a-generation moment, and I think it crosses party lines. People on Teesside, every single constituency of which voted to leave the EU, will be astonished that I am the only Member from that region who is going to be voting for what they asked for tonight.

I want to conclude by re-emphasising the calamitous consequences of our exiting the EU without the necessary legal provisions in place. Without this Bill, we will wake on the morning of exit day to find that thousands of our laws have changed or been rendered inoperative. The fallout from that scenario will make “cliff edge” sound euphemistic. With that in mind, voting against the Bill tonight will be interpreted by many as a vote to punish the British people for having had the audacity to vote for Brexit, for that is exactly what it will do.