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Leaving the Eu: Negotiations

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:25 pm on 10th July 2018.

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Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, Assistant Whip 2:25 pm, 10th July 2018

I respect the right hon. Gentleman enormously and to some extent I regard him as a friend, but I also recall that from time to time he indulges in pantomime in his constituency, and that may be the case today if he is arguing that we ought to be out of a policy that he in fact believes we should be in. I do not think that his is the consistent position.

Domestically, we have passed legislation preparing us for Brexit, such as the Nuclear Safeguards Act 2018, the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 and, most recently, the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. The Haulage Permits and Trailer Registration Bill has also completed its passage through Parliament.

I am sure we will hear speeches claiming that a second referendum is the democratic thing to do, but that is not the case. The issue has been thoroughly democratically tested. Let me run through the ways. In the run-up to the 2015 general election, the Conservative party’s manifesto stated:

“We will...give you a say over whether we should stay in or leave the EU, with an in-out referendum”.

It quite clearly did not say there would be one referendum at the start of negotiations and another at the end. That manifesto commitment was given statutory footing through the European Union Referendum Act 2015, which specified there would be one referendum, not two. To recap so far, there was an election-winning manifesto and an Act was passed through this House, but perhaps that is not democratic enough for the Lib Dems.

As this House well knows, the referendum held on 23 June 2016 saw a majority of people voting to leave the EU. That was the biggest single democratic act in British history. Following that, the House of Commons voted, with a clear majority, to authorise the Prime Minister to trigger article 50, by passing the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017. As hon. Members know very well, amendments were tabled requesting a referendum to ratify the deal negotiated with the EU. One such amendment, in the name of Tim Farron, was defeated by a margin in excess of 10:1. That was democracy in action once again.

There is more in the democratic treasure trove. In last year’s general election, more than 80% of voters supported the Conservative and Labour parties. Both parties’ manifestos committed to respecting the result of the referendum. Let us not forget how many voters supported the position of the Liberal Democrats, whose manifesto called for that second referendum: 7.4% of them.

Most recently, of course, there has been the passage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, where amendments attempting to secure a second referendum surfaced once again. One, in the name of Tom Brake, was defeated by a margin in excess of 13:1, yet he still has an appetite for this old democracy idea.