1st Allotted Day

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Act – in the House of Commons at 9:21 pm on 4th December 2018.

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Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet 9:21 pm, 4th December 2018

It is always a pleasure to follow Hilary Benn. I do not agree with everything he said, but let me start with a point of definite agreement: the European Union needs reform. I personally believe that the EU is corrupt, bureaucratic, meddlesome and wasteful, but for all of that I voted remain. I did so because I believe my children and grandchildren and my constituents’ children and grandchildren would be better off within than outwith the European Union in terms of the economy and security.

That is how I voted, but unfortunately 52% of the British public did not. I have accepted that result, although I understand that others take a different view and would like to rerun the referendum or have a people’s vote or try to overturn the decision. But I believe we do have a duty now to honour the expressed wish of the British people, and for that reason I shall be supporting the withdrawal agreement. It is not perfect—no compromise ever is—but I listened very carefully to what the Attorney General said yesterday and his words were, to paraphrase slightly, that it is a risk, but a risk we have to take when we consider all the alternatives.

If we look at all the alternatives—I tried to goad my right hon. Friend Boris Johnson into offering one this evening and got nothing—such as the hard Brexit and if we have to rule out, as I do, a return to no Brexit, we are left with the withdrawal agreement. I believe my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was absolutely correct in saying it is not possible to go back to the Commission cap in hand. We might get a tweak here and a tweak there, but the idea that anybody is going to offer a radical reassessment of what is on offer today is baying at the moon. I spend a certain amount of time leading the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe delegation, and I meet European parliamentarians, as I have in the past few weeks. They are astonished, looking through the other end of the telescope, at how much has been given to the United Kingdom, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is absolutely right to say that if she goes back and tries to reopen the deal, 27 other countries will all say “Me, too,” and then we shall have a raft of changes that will not be to our advantage. So for all that the withdrawal agreement is not perfect, I shall support it.

I want to touch briefly on the hard Brexit because this is part of my equation and now I need to be parochial. I am proud to be a Member of Parliament representing the garden of England—Kent. Other people do not seem to have grasped this fact, but quite a lot of trade comes through Dover and into the rest of the country and goes out through Dover. The fact of the matter is that probably 20 years ago 85% of the lorries going out were British, whereas now 85% of the lorries coming in and going out are continental.

A hard Brexit means a hard border. We have heard a lot about hard borders in Northern Ireland, but we have not heard about hard borders in England—a hard border between Dover and Calais. That shutter will come down. There will be controls, if we go for a hard Brexit. Kent Members visited the Dover Harbour Board last week and we spoke with the Freight Transport Association and Kent police, and I spoke personally with a freight forwarder. If those shutters come down, the traffic backs up at about a mile an hour. That is out of the port of Dover, up the M20, up the M26 and on to the M25, and then we are stuffed.

If the M25 comes to a grinding halt, south London comes to a grinding halt and soon Birmingham will come to a grinding halt. No car parts for the just-in-time car industry, no life-saving pharmaceuticals, no construction materials—rockwool, which is used extensively in construction, comes through Dover—and no food. The good people of North East Somerset and of Uxbridge may not care whether Kent is turned into a lorry park, but I do. What I also know is that the people of Somerset and Uxbridge will scream blue murder when they find that they cannot buy their new Chelsea tractor, their life-saving drugs or the foodstuffs that they enjoy that come in from mainland Europe. We will hear those screams from the west country and west London in Westminster.

We have three options. I rule out no Brexit, because I believe that it is not what people voted for. I have had to rule out, for the reasons I have just given, hard Brexit. I believe that it would be immensely damaging. Even my miserable maths says that two out of three leaves one, and that one is the withdrawal agreement that will be before us on Tuesday night. I believe that I owe it to my constituents’ children and grandchildren to vote for it, get behind it and then let this great country move forward. That is what I shall do on Tuesday.