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[2nd Allotted Day]

Part of Immigration (Time Limit on Detention) – in the House of Commons at 3:48 pm on 5th December 2018.

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Photo of Tim Farron Tim Farron Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 3:48 pm, 5th December 2018

I totally agree with my hon. Friend. The damage that it would do to our economy would be utterly immense.

If the Prime Minister’s deal is passed, it kicks the can down the road for a number of years, and we carry on talking about Brexit into the foreseeable future. It traps the UK into EU rules, but with no say over what those rules are. It is the absolute opposite, then, of taking back control. Millions of those who voted leave would feel that they had been betrayed. Meanwhile, the Northern Ireland backstop seriously threatens the future of the Union, and every family and every business in this country will be hit by our exit from the single market. If Members think that we should honour the wishes of the British people, they cannot vote for this deal. If they think that we should protect the interests of the British people, they cannot vote for this deal.

Option two, which we have already covered, is that we leave with no deal. The upside of that is that we would—to use the vernacular—take back control. We would not be bound by EU rules or judgments, but the hit to our economy would mean that what sovereignty we would regain from the EU, we would lose immediately to the international financial markets, with all the impact that that would have on my constituents and the constituents of every other Member. There are already 2,200 children living below the poverty line in my community. I will not vote for any course of action that puts even one more child or one more family, let alone thousands more, in poverty. That is why I will vote against no deal.

A third option is that the Prime Minister has the courage of her convictions and puts the deal to the country in a referendum. Let us not kid ourselves: like most referendums, a referendum on the deal—a people’s vote—has the capacity to be divisive. However, I disagree with Sir Michael Fallon, as I believe that it would be decisive. Whichever option was chosen by the people would come into effect without further debate or delay.

Option four might be an early general election. There are 2,700 hours until Brexit. The country will not forgive us if we waste 1,000 of those hours on a self-indulgent general election. The same applies to option five, which is that the Prime Minister is sacked as the leader of her party. Again, that would be seen as the actions of the self-indulgent, the vain and the personally ambitious—the very antithesis of the national interest.

A sixth option is to withdraw article 50 and to renegotiate. As Justine Greening said earlier, we leapt from the aircraft when we triggered article 50 without checking whether we had a parachute, and we are now within a few metres of hitting the ground with a great big splat. There is now a miraculous option to get back in the plane. We could withdraw article 50 and allow the Prime Minister to renegotiate a better deal, which she certainly could do if she changed her red lines. She could, for instance, seek membership of the single market, which is not dissimilar to the arrangement that Norway enjoys. The Prime Minister’s decision to rule out the single market was an entirely arbitrary and self-imposed choice made not to reflect the will of the people, but to placate the European Research Group in her own party. It should now be crystal clear to her that those folks are unplacatable, so she should instead seek to find a consensus with people who might be a little more reasonable.

I am a reasonable man. I am no EU flag-waving federalist, no apologist for all that emanates from Brussels, I do not have “Ode to Joy” as my ringtone, I do not know a single word of Esperanto, and, in 2008, I resigned from the Front Bench over the Lisbon treaty, but I have never been more convinced that Britain’s future must lie in Europe and that to leave would be a tragic, tragic mistake. I do not have time to go into all the reasons, but given that the focus of today’s debate is security, let us remember that 11 of the countries in the European Union today were once behind the iron curtain. Six of those countries had nuclear weapons on their soil pointed right at this city. Just as the nations that fought two bloody wars in the 20th century sit together, so do those from either side of the cold war divide. If that was the only reason for staying in the European Union, that would do for me. How short must memory be to cast that away?

I spend a lot more time in Westmorland than I do in Westminster, so last night I listened to my constituents and did my sums to find out how people in my communities think we should vote in this debate. Here are the votes of the Westmorland jury: 3.5% want us to leave with no deal; 10% want us to leave with the Prime Minister’s deal; 17% want us to remain in the EU without a people’s vote; and 68% want a people’s vote.

After taking the time to listen to people’s motives, it is clear to me that many of those who want a people’s vote hold a similar view to me—that referendums are poisonous and dangerous. If we did not see another referendum for the rest of our lives, it would be far too soon. Nevertheless, we cannot let what began with democracy end with a Whitehall-Westminster-Brussels stich-up. If the people voted for our departure, they must also have the right to vote for our destination, and to choose a better destination than the one that the Prime Minister presents to them, if they consider it not to be good enough.

This deal fails all its own internal tests. It would mean that we were run by European rules but without any ability to have a say over them, which would make us poorer, weaker and less safe. It would divide our Union, so it would make us less British. I love my country, so I will reject any deal that harms it. I reject no deal and this bad deal. There are better options; the Prime Minister should take them.