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[2nd Allotted Day]

Part of Immigration (Time Limit on Detention) – in the House of Commons at 4:02 pm on 5th December 2018.

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Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley 4:02 pm, 5th December 2018

It is a pleasure to follow Stephen Crabb. I agree with him on at least one thing—there is nothing simple or straightforward about what we are confronted with here.

I want to spend the time available to me talking about Brexit and Knowsley. People might say, “Why Knowsley?” Why do I have to talk about Knowsley in connection with Brexit? The reason is that in the 2016 referendum the people of Knowsley voted in exactly the same way as the rest of the United Kingdom—52:48—to leave the European Union, so, in a way, it is a microcosm of the rest of the United Kingdom. Why did the people of Knowsley vote in the way they did? When I was out on the street campaigning to remain, three reasons came up continually. The first was immigration; I will say a little more about that in a moment. The second was sovereignty, or taking back control. The third was that they wanted us to control our own finances properly. I want to deal with each of those in turn.

First, on immigration, some of it—not all of it—was xenophobic in nature, with people addressing it as, “We don’t want to be that country. We don’t like multiculturalism” and that kind of thing. People also gave other reasons, one of which was a feeling that immigration was putting too much pressure on public services. In Knowsley, we have the lowest level of immigration in the country, and although we have pressures on public services, immigration has nothing to do with those pressures. But that was one of the reasons they gave.

Another reason people gave—my hon. Friend Mr Skinner, as so often, touched on it—was a feeling that those coming from eastern Europe in particular were undercutting wages in some of the industries that operate in my constituency. Whether that is right or wrong, that is what people felt at the time. As it happens, I think we need to have a more intelligent debate about immigration than we have had so far, so that people really understand the nature of it, but we have not had that debate, and we certainly had not had it at that point.

Secondly, I will not labour the point on sovereignty, because it has been made repeatedly by others, but the reality is that we are ceding more control than we are gaining, so the deal does not meet that requirement. Thirdly, on the issue of repatriating the money we spend in Europe and economic control, frankly, all the evidence is that it will go in the opposite direction. The reality is that everything the people in my constituency voted for when they voted to leave is not going to happen with this deal. This deal does not meet the requirements they set, and I think most Members are conscious of that.

Before I conclude, I want to talk about what I know of opinion in my constituency at the moment. Like every other Member of this House, I have had hundreds of people contact me in the last few weeks, and they fall into three distinct categories. The first is people who, like me, voted to remain, and they want us to have a second referendum, so that they can have a go at determining a different outcome. The second category is people who voted to leave, are still convinced of that and are willing for us to come out at any cost, with no deal at all. The third category, which is really interesting, is people—some of them remainers, some of them leavers—who are saying, “We’ve already had a referendum. We should get on with it.” The Prime Minister has been using that mantra over the last few weeks. The problem, given that the deal does not represent any of the things that those people voted for, is that getting on with it means getting on with something that virtually everyone in the House concedes is an unsatisfactory outcome.

I think we would all concede that those who contact MPs to tell them what they think are not necessarily typical of opinion in any given constituency. Nevertheless, that is one signal I have to go by. I got another signal when I went to speak on this issue at the All Saints sixth-form in Kirkby in my constituency six weeks ago. In the middle of it, for some reason, I decided to take a straw poll. Although Kirkby is a traditional white working-class area, the students overwhelmingly voted to remain. They wanted some means by which they could remain in the European Union, and that highlights the generational difficulty we have.

I also attended an event over the summer that I organised with the help of the local chamber of commerce, for local businesses that trade with Europe. From big companies like Jaguar Land Rover, down to a small company that deals in precious metal, they wanted a deal that assured their future trading relationship with the European Union. I do not think this deal provides that.

I am left with the view that this can only be sorted in one of two ways. The first is a general election. That does not seem likely to happen, but it is one way of doing it. The second option is another referendum. I believe that one or both of those, or even a combination of the two, is the only way forward, because there is no majority in the House for anything else.