It is a great privilege to speak in this very important debate, and it is an honour to follow Ellie Reeves. Although we come at this from very different perspectives, I respect her passion in speaking up for her constituency.
The people of Cornwall have a long history of being a little bit awkward, a little bit independently minded and occasionally even a little bit rebellious. There was the famous time when 20,000 Cornishmen marched on this place because the King had put one of our bishops in the Tower of London. Even since way back then, the Cornish have had a slightly awkward relationship with authority, so it was no surprise whatever to me that Cornwall voted to leave the EU in 2016.
St Austell and Newquay—the constituency that I have the privilege to represent—actually had the biggest leave vote in the whole of Cornwall. However, it is important that we recognise that the vote was not just about our relationship with the European Union. It was about much more than that. Much of it was about people who felt disconnected, neglected and often ignored by what we might call the establishment. Thousands who had never before voted in any election voted to leave. Despite “Project Fear” and their being told continuously that this decision would be terrible for them, they voted courageously for us to leave the European Union because they wanted their voice to be heard and they wanted to know that their vote mattered.
That is part of the challenge before this House today and in the coming weeks. This is no longer just about Brexit; it is about the heart of our democracy. It is about who runs this country, whether we are truly a democracy where the will of the people prevails, and whether we in the House listen to those who have voted for us and sent us here to implement the decision that they have made.
Yesterday, a constituent of mine pointed out that on
“The day has finally come, tomorrow is EU referendum Day where we all get to vote on a once in a lifetime opportunity to decide whether we are in are out of the EU. I’m not going to persuade anyone either way I don’t think it will make a difference what the result is. We aren’t leaving Europe ever and no vote by the people is going to change that. There are far too many higher powers with vested interests in the status quo to let a silly little thing like democracy get in the way.”
He went on to say that if the vote was to leave,
“higher powers will set into motion a series of events that will prevent leaving ever happening. Because it has to be approved through Parliament. There will have to be White Papers, debates, amendments, more debates, more amendments, and plenty more political posturing from both sides of the argument. It won’t be settled in the next 3 years and will then become an issue for the next general election. And by then we will have served another 4 years under Europe anyway and so why would we want to leave now?”
I do not know if he was Mystic Meg or a prophet, but there is a great fear among many, many people that what he described all that time ago is exactly what is happening. There is a sense outside this place that we are in the middle of an establishment stitch-up that is trying to prevent what the people of this country voted for from happening.
When the amendment that some of my colleagues voted for was passed last night, a cheer went up with the sense that somehow a victory had been won over those on this side of the House who want to see a true and proper Brexit. That victory was not against people like me—it was against the 17.4 million people in this country who voted for leave, and believed in this place, and put their faith and trust in us to deliver what they voted for.
I do not support the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement because I do not believe that it delivers what we have promised time and again as a party. It does not deliver what we put in our manifesto last year when we said that we would respect the result of the referendum. It puts this country in a worse place in terms of negotiating than we are now. I do not understand those who say that what we failed to achieve in the past two years when we have had cards to play will somehow will be better achieved when we have removed all our cards. We have had the £39 billion to bargain with. We have had the ability to walk away from the table to bargain with. How we think we are going to get a better deal from the EU once we no longer have those cards to play, I fail to understand.
People will say, “What is the alternative if we vote this deal down?” That is a very good question that I have considered very, very seriously, but I will not be pushed out of fear into voting for something I do not believe is right for this country simply because people tell me that the consequences could be serious. We have to face that. I do not want no deal. I want the Prime Minister to go back to the EU and say that there are elements in the withdrawal agreement that are not acceptable to the House and need to be removed in order for the House to support it. Obviously, that is primarily around the backstop. If the EU will not do that, under the legislation, no deal is the default position. Those in the House who say that no deal should never, ever be considered are effectively saying that we can never leave the EU until the EU agrees terms with us. That is admitting defeat. That is saying that we are effectively a colony of the EU and we can never leave of our own volition, but only when it agrees terms with us. I do not believe that that is right. It is not what the future of this nation is about.
When we vote against the deal next week, I hope that the Prime Minister will listen to the genuine concerns of many of us across the House who believe that this deal does not deliver what we promised the people of this country, and that she will go back to the EU with a positive message. We need to believe in the future of our country—not just our right to be free and independent of the EU, but our ability to deliver a proper Brexit and enable this country to flourish outside the EU.