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[3rd Allotted Day]

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 3:42 pm on 6th December 2018.

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Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Conservative, Plymouth, Moor View 3:42 pm, 6th December 2018

I rise to speak on Brexit for the first time ever in this House. I have never spoken about Brexit before. I have avoided like subject like the plague. It has brought out, I am afraid to say, a side in a lot of my friends and colleagues, who I love dearly, that I have not particularly enjoyed. I am forced to have a view today and I will be honest.

I have always been ambivalent about our exit from or membership of the European Union. I know that frustrates others. I respect those who hold passionate views on both sides of the argument, but for me is has always been an issue—it is not the issue of a modern Conservative party. This situation we are now in represents a total failure of the political class in this country. I completely understand the views and regret of many Members in this House, but we have to see it for the opportunity it is. Not to do so would be not to understand the referendum result. That result shook this country to its core. I voted remain, but I liked that. I came here because I could not watch my country have her politics dominated by a political class out of touch with the nation they governed. I liked the shockwave that was sent through the establishment, but more than that I was hoping for change.

This deal indicates what I have long feared: that too many in Government have failed to grasp why people voted to leave the European Union in the first place, and the opportunities for a brighter future that that vote represented. Was it about Europe? Of course it was. But it was about so much more than that. The vote to leave was in no small part a cri de coeur from millions of people who feel that the powers that be in Westminster no longer know, let alone care, what it feels like to walk in their shoes. Poorer and less-well educated voters were more likely to back leave. The majority of those not in work backed leave. Those living in council housing and social housing tenants mostly backed leave. Those dependent on a state pension largely backed leave. At every level, there was a direct correlation between household income and the likelihood to vote for leaving the EU. That is what makes what happens now even more important. The referendum result was a nation throwing a leash back around its Government. What people wanted was a Government who said what they meant and meant what they said. Yes, it was about taking back control—but it was about the country taking back control of its Government.

That, right there, is my issue with the deal. I know courage and resolve when I see it and on Tuesday evening, when the Prime Minister rose to open this debate after losing three votes on the bounce, she demonstrated why she personally still holds the affections of many of us here. But what followed, and, in fact, what preceded her in the motion that was passed, showed me that in some ways, we still do not get it. The establishment is too loud, too boorish and too condescending, and it really worries me. To force this deal through—crossing our own red lines and our manifesto that we stood on, but particularly critically for me, threatening the Union of this United Kingdom—would speak to a democratic deficit that I have always spoken about, and if I am to retain my integrity, I must now oppose.

This country is in troubling times. The divisions, hatred, unreasonableness and the fundamentally un-British unpleasantness of man to fellow man have to end. If I thought that this deal was going to do that, I would be the first through the Lobby. I want nothing more than simply to be part of an extraordinary team on the Government side achieving extraordinary things and making a modern, compassionate Conservative party that is fit to meet the challenges of a modern Britain, but this is not it. Unfortunately, this deal is not it. The British people know that and we must now be very careful.

I say to the Prime Minister that we must try again. I do not want no deal, and I believe that a second referendum—although I respect those who hold such views—would open up divisions in this country that frankly, me and a lot of people in this country are sick of. However, I cannot accept an agreement that makes the UK a junior partner in an international relationship that it cannot unilaterally leave, because that misses the point of why people voted for Brexit in the first place.

We can do this. I travel thousands of miles up and down this country, and there is a huge conservative heart out there in this nation looking to be represented by a modern Conservative party here at Westminster. We get there by remembering our values and why people vote for us—it is because they feel like they have control. The backstop is not that. We believe in the fundamental goodness of this nation. This is a seminal moment and we must be extremely careful to get it right.