I draw the attention of the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
I want to extend the warmest possible congratulations to the new Secretary of State on joining the Cabinet—I know he has had to pop out for a short while—and I want to salute the speech by my hon. Friend Mr Baker. Whether one agrees or disagrees with him, he is clearly a man of integrity and principle. He worked incredibly hard in his Department.
This is the first contribution that I have made to any of the Brexit debates. It was 25 years ago that I was a Government Whip engaged in securing support for the Maastricht treaty, with Britain’s two opt-outs, so brilliantly negotiated by John Major. I learned from that experience the deep and fierce passions on Europe that are held by so many of my friends and colleagues across the House, and in particular on the Conservative Benches.
I have to say, in all honesty, that the position today is far worse in terms of internal conflict and disagreement than ever it was during the Maastricht era. Of course the divisions are not just within this side of the House; they run throughout our constituencies—mine was divided almost exactly 50:50—and between friends and family. They have led to a breakdown in collective responsibility in the Cabinet, with the consequent breakdown in normal party discipline far worse than anything we remotely saw during the parliamentary stages of Maastricht. This breakdown in relationships, these deep divisions in this place and outside, are going to be very difficult indeed to heal.
I come now to the White Paper. I was dismayed, although not surprised, that my right hon. Friend Mr Davis resigned; dismayed because, despite some of the ludicrous, and at times mischievous, briefings he was subjected to, he was so clearly the right negotiator for Britain, with his business and European experience making him uniquely qualified for the task.
I have always felt throughout this process, as a Back-Bench Member of Parliament, that the best interests of my constituents are served by supporting the Executive in these very difficult negotiations: that the Legislature—that is us—should give the Executive some leeway and the benefit of the doubt. That is not an enormously dissimilar approach to the way the 27 other stakeholders in the EU are more or less rowing in behind Monsieur Barnier. But in the end, particularly in a Parliament where there is no majority, and where therefore power has so self-evidently passed from the Cabinet room to the Floor of the House of Commons, it is we, the Legislature, who will decide, and the House of Commons that will reach its verdict on the deal that the Executive negotiates. It is for that reason that the arguments for a meaningful vote are so essential and have had to prevail, as they have done, in the House.