[3rd Allotted Day]

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 1:13 pm on 6th December 2018.

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Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex 1:13 pm, 6th December 2018

May I start by congratulating my right hon. Friend the Chancellor on his speech, on his prudent and sensible stewardship of our economy at this difficult time and on the extraordinarily clear way in which he expressed his intent?

I should remind the House that I was a staunch remainer. I campaigned vigorously to remain, and I would certainly do so again. I am proud that my constituency voted to remain by 53%. I am personally deeply saddened by the result of the referendum, and I believe that our wonderful country made an historically bad decision that we will long regret. However, the country voted to leave the European Union in the referendum of 2016—the biggest democratic exercise in our history. I am first and foremost a democrat, and I believe strongly that that vote must be honoured.

At the time of the referendum, the then Prime Minister, my friend David Cameron, assured the country that the result would be respected. I echoed that assurance at the last election and confirmed that, however much I regretted it, I must support the democratically expressed wish of my country. I wish to make it clear that, while there are serious disagreements on both sides of the House, I believe we all have the best interests as we see them of our country at heart, and that we fight the good fight with confidence but also proper respect for those who hold long-standing views that are very different.

I was very taken with the speech by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at the beginning of the debate, and I wish to pay the warmest tribute to her for her tremendous courage, doggedness, diligence and determination to arrive at a deal in the national interest. I believe that she has achieved in this withdrawal agreement an essentially pragmatic compromise, which she rightly justifies as being a realistic conclusion of that which is possible. I hope the House realises that there will not be a better deal on offer and that, if this arrangement is voted down, no different deal will miraculously appear and there will be a profound period of uncertainty and risk that we might crash out with no deal, which would, by common consent, be a disaster for our country.

At the end of the day, this withdrawal agreement will leave almost nobody satisfied, but it gives all sides of the argument something. It is not a perfect deal, and it was never going to be, for that is the nature of a complex negotiation. It is indeed a compromise, and it would be a fatal mistake, as the Prime Minister said, to let the search for the perfect Brexit prevent a good Brexit.

It is also important for the House to acknowledge that the Prime Minister, by ignoring the strident noises off, under immense pressure from all sides of our own party and the House, has managed to temper these negotiations in such a way as to ensure that we will be able, in time, to retain the closest partnership with our European friends and allies. However, I remain deeply anxious that a no-deal Brexit or a second referendum, which would likely be inconclusive after a vicious and harsh campaign, might push Britain into the kind of loathsome and hateful partisan bitterness that now so disfigures American public life and is so damaging to its democratic settlement and political discourse. We do not want that in this country.

What will be achieved by support for the withdrawal agreement is one thing but, as the House knows, there are years of hard and difficult negotiations ahead. After the most careful thought, I have concluded that what is proposed in the withdrawal agreement substantially delivers on the referendum result and must thus be honoured. It is clear that, under these arrangements, the United Kingdom will be leaving the political union, ending free movement, leaving the customs union, leaving the common fisheries policy and the common agricultural policy, ending the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and regaining the chimera of our sovereignty. The agreement is thus entirely deserving of the House’s support.