1st Allotted Day

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Act – in the House of Commons at 9:10 pm on 4th December 2018.

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Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Chair, Committee on Exiting the European Union 9:10 pm, 4th December 2018

Absolutely. I do not believe that there is a majority in the House for leaving with no deal, and we will have an opportunity to demonstrate our view in our vote next week.

This decision will define the present generation of Members of Parliament and shape the future for our children and our grandchildren. From the very beginning, our nation has been divided on the subject of Europe. From Hugh Gaitskell’s speech about the end of 1,000 years of British history, to Edward Heath’s argument that joining the Common Market was a

“great step forward towards the removal of divisions in western Europe”,

from Harold Wilson’s renegotiation and referendum to David Cameron’s, the British people have shown support for and reticence about Europe in almost equal measure.

I argued for remaining in the European Union, but not because it is perfect. It is far from perfect, and it needs reform. The result of the referendum told us and the rise of populism across Europe is telling Governments that too many people feel that the balance between sovereignty, self-determination, control—call it what you will—and co-operation with other countries is not quite right. That thirst for control is a reflection of the lack of control that many of our constituents feel they have over their lives, given what has happened to their jobs and the changes that they have seen. But at this moment in our history, in this century, working with our neighbours and our friends is an absolute necessity if we are to address the great challenges that we all face on this small and fragile planet: the challenges of trade, dealing with threats to peace and security, preventing the climate of our earth from running out of control with devastating consequences for all the people whom we represent, and dealing with the tide of humanity that is travelling across the globe in search of a better life.

I will not dissemble, and I will not pretend. I think that leaving the European Union is a terrible mistake. It will damage our economy and discourage investment; it will hurt our constituents; it will make it much more difficult to do something about the many reasons why people voted to leave; it will reduce our influence in the world; and it will disregard the extraordinary achievement of the European ideal in bringing peace to a continent on which centuries of war had seen blood shed for no purpose, and generation after generation laid beneath the earth. In this year of the centenary of the end of the first world war, we should remember that, as well as remembering them.

We have to deal with the situation we find ourselves in, and my final plea to the House is as follows. Now is the moment to tell each other the truth. We owe that to a nation that has shown itself to be divided almost exactly down the middle. We have to bear in mind our responsibility to the 48% as well as the 52%, and no one is going to get out of this mess everything they wanted. No one is going to get everything they thought they would get. No one is going to receive all the things they were told they would receive. All of us are going to have to compromise, and we are going to have to find a way forward that a majority can agree upon.

The reason I would ask the House next week to vote for my amendment if it is selected is that the sooner we are able to say to the Government that we are not prepared to support the motion before us and we are not prepared to leave with no deal, the sooner we can move forward and find a solution to this problem in the time that remains. Thanks to the amendment successfully moved by Mr Grieve earlier today, the House can at least end this debate secure in the knowledge that, as and when that time comes, we will have an opportunity to have our say, and so it should be.