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This will surprise you, Mr Speaker: I am old enough to have voted in the 1975 referendum, and I voted yes to stay in the common market. But what I voted for then changed rather substantially over the years, and I became somewhat concerned about the way the EU had developed. When it came to the last referendum, I was for leave—on balance, but I think that was the right decision. The truth of the matter is that it was not to do with what was on the side of a bus, but that most of our citizens have had to live with the EU over several decades. There was just that general feeling that the EU was not very responsive to their needs. The British people have a certain native common sense that tells us that we could do better on our own. Compared with the 1970s, when Britain was a rather depressing place, Britain is doing really well in the world, and it has been doing over the past 20 years. The reality is that it was a vote of confidence in this country from the British people. We can do a lot better. We can be an open, flexible, dynamic economy in the world.
Leaving the EU was always going to be a messy business, because any kind of divorce is, and there are compromises to be made. I pay credit to the Prime Minister for the work that she and the negotiators have done. It is a difficult job and probably a thankless one, and it will be even more thankless next Tuesday when we get the House’s decision. There are some good things in the agreement and I could agree with a lot of it as a compromise to see us out of the EU, but as a Conservative Unionist, I find the Irish backstop very difficult to deal with.
I do not want to treat any area of the United Kingdom differently from my own constituency. There is a danger of our getting hung up in that arrangement. The advice of the Attorney General is very clear. The Prime Minister needs to go back to the EU and say, “Deal on providing that we have a date to the backstop.” If there is a date, many people’s fears about our getting hung up in the arrangement and not being able to do deals would disappear. We have already heard that there is no intent either north or south of the border to establish a hard border. My fear is that the backstop will be used as a device during the negotiations over trade and over fish—as President Macron has already said—to screw the British down and give us a bad deal.