Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
It is an absolute pleasure to follow Mr Leslie. On this, we are absolutely as one. It has been a consistent feature not only of the debate in the run-up to the referendum, but in everything that has followed, that there has been so much agreement between those of us on these Government Back Benches and those on the Opposition Back Benches. If I may say so, Opposition Front Benchers are also increasingly recognising the strength of the argument that Opposition Back Benchers and some Government Back Benchers have been making. We also have the agreement of SNP and Plaid Cymru Members; that is about it, unfortunately.
The point is very clear: this issue—the biggest issue that our nation has had to wrestle with in 40 years, and certainly since the second world war—has, on the one hand, divided our country and that division continues, but, on the other hand, has also brought together people from different political parties. We have put aside our party differences, because on this we are as one, and we have put our country first. I pay tribute to all the Members who have spoken out—often in the face of death threats, appalling emails and criticisms, and indeed unpleasantness even from within our own political parties—as doing so has not always been easy. However, it is very important that we do so because this is about our country and of course our constituents—it is not about us—and it is even more about our children and our grandchildren. As hon. Members have said, it is about making sure we get this right because the consequences will affect generations to come.
My view is that people in this country are undoubtedly getting utterly fed up with Brexit. I was going to say that they do not understand it, and that is not a criticism, but when we sit here talking about the finer details of “a” or “the” customs union “arrangement” or “agreement”, and when we delve into the detail of WTO tariffs on bananas, cars or beer—goodness me—people do not want to be involved. That is not because they do not care about our country—of course they care, desperately—but they elect us to this place so that we get on with that sort of stuff, and so that we put the country first and do the best thing for our constituents. They should not have, in effect, to micromanage the politics and detail of all the economic consequences and things that flow from that; they trust us to do it, but when they look at this place, I do not think they are particularly impressed by what they see.
In reality, the two major parties are almost together, although thankfully a difference is now emerging, which I will deal with in a moment. The Opposition have the good sense to come out in favour of a/the customs union—it does not matter what we call it; we now know that it delivers exactly the same arrangement that we currently have. [Interruption.] Sorry, “a” customs union, but I am not interested in the words. All I am interested in is what it delivers, and that is the only difference between the Labour party and the Front Bench of the Government who I obviously support. There is very little between them. Yet, as I have said before in this place, if we were to have a free vote, I have no doubt that the majority of Members would vote in favour of a/the customs union—we all know what we mean because we know what it would deliver, which is the continuation of peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland and the avoidance of a hard border. It would also convey many other benefits. I also have no doubt that Members would vote in favour of us retaining our membership of the single market by being a member of EFTA, and I do not think that the people of this country are particularly impressed by the fact that that is not happening. They voted for us to speak up on behalf of them and their interests, and we should not be held back by three-line Whips and by an attitude that still exists in our society—led mainly by certain sections of the media—that anyone who has the temerity to speak out about or against the decision that was made in the EU referendum is in some way a “traitor” or a “mutineer”. It is an outrage! We come here to speak freely on behalf of our constituents.