I am grateful to be called in this important and serious debate, ahead of what I think most people expect to be the defeat of the proposed EU withdrawal agreement next Tuesday night.
Like so many of my colleagues, I am currently receiving hundreds of emails from constituents urging us to vote down this deal, for all kinds of different and contradictory reasons: to kill Brexit altogether; to get a second referendum; to get a softer Brexit through some kind of Norway-style deal; to get a harder Brexit or a real Brexit; to get a Canada-style deal or the WTO option; or to get rid of the Prime Minister and get somebody else in charge who genuinely believes in the Brexit project. There are so many different reasons to vote it down that we would cover all our bases by going through the No Lobby next Tuesday night. But the message I would like to give to the House, particularly to my colleagues, is that voting this deal down next Tuesday will resolve nothing at all. It might be the easiest thing to do. It might even be the smart political thing to do. But it will not take us further forward and it will resolve nothing at all.
One of the consistent themes of the negotiating process over the last 18 months has been how the sheer complexity and, at times, difficulty of the Brexit negotiations have increasingly jarred against the perfect theory and almost beautiful and optimistic simplicity of some of the leave campaign slogans that we heard during the referendum campaign in 2016. There was a beautiful and optimistic simplicity about the message of taking back control by being out rather than in. Yet as we have seen during these negotiations, the real world is much more complicated. One thing I have learned during the 14 months that I have been a member of the Exiting the European Union Committee is that there is nothing simple or straightforward about the business of withdrawing the UK from the EU after 40 years of membership.
“You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.”
That was not an acceptance of duplicity in politics, but a recognition that, when it comes to serious and responsible government, the outcomes are always less elegant and less attractive than some of the easy campaign slogans.
As the increasing realisation has set in that Brexit is a more challenging and difficult process than many would have liked to have believed at the start, so the blame game sets in. We hear people lashing out so easily against the Prime Minister, saying things like, “It’s all her fault. This is due to her personality. She’s not tough enough. She should have been stronger. She should have been a real believer and had real faith in Brexit.” And we hear accusations against Olly Robbins and the senior civil servants: “If only we had senior civil servants who weren’t part of the metropolitan elite and who shared the general views of the real British public, we would have a more perfect Brexit option on the table in front of us.”
The truth is that we have a less than perfect Brexit deal in front of us because that was always going to be the case. I say to my Conservative colleagues that the deal on the table is not the Prime Minister’s deal—it is our deal. It already has all of our names attached to it. That is because it has been shaped, fundamentally, not by the Prime Minister’s personality and not by Olly Robbins, but by decisions that we all took as a governing party. We all agreed to the timetable of the article 50 process with its hard deadline; we signed up to that. We all stood on a manifesto last year that included the contradictory red lines that perpetuated the complete fiction that we could have all the same benefits of membership of the single market and the customs union but none of the obligations that come from that. That manifesto embodied those red lines. We are responsible for the way that this deal has been shaped, so we will share in the responsibility for what happens next.
If this deal gets voted down next week, we know—it is already clear from the first day or so of debate that we have had—that no one is sure what happens next, other than a further period of political uncertainty and turmoil, and that cannot be in our nation’s interests.
I will wrap up by saying something about my own constituency, Preseli Pembrokeshire, which voted 55:45 to leave the European Union. On the night of the referendum result, I promised, even though I had been a remain campaigner, that I would respect the outcome of the referendum, and that I would campaign and work towards the outcome being implemented, but in a way that was responsible and that sought to protect key economic interests that affect the lives of the communities in my constituency. My constituency is one of the peripheral areas of the United Kingdom. We are closer to Ireland than we are to England. We have ferry ports that connect to Ireland. We have oil refining, gas imports, farming and fishing—so many economic interests—and how we leave the EU really matters to the livelihoods of people in those sectors.
One particular sector that I want to draw attention to is oil refining. The Valero oil refinery in Pembroke is probably our largest employer—it employs 1,000 people directly and indirectly through contractors. Having sat down with the general manager of that plant a few weeks ago, I can say to the House that there are very serious and specific reasons why a no deal outcome would be very bad news indeed for that major employer in my constituency. No serious Member of Parliament for Preseli Pembrokeshire could vote for something that could lead to a no deal outcome and look their constituents in the eye again. In my time as MP, I have been through one refinery closure four years ago when the Murco refinery closed, and it was horrible. I have friends who lost their jobs; I have staff members whose family members who lost their jobs. I do not want to see that again.
How we leave the EU really matters. Yes, this is an imperfect deal; it could have been so much better if we had used our time much better as a Government and a party over the past two years. But I am going to vote for it because I believe in doing Brexit in a responsible way that protects the interests of my constituents and abides by the outcome of the referendum in 2016.