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[3rd Allotted Day]

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 4:08 pm on 6th December 2018.

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Photo of William Wragg William Wragg Conservative, Hazel Grove 4:08 pm, 6th December 2018

At the end of this debate, the House will vote in the most significant Division since 28 October 1971, when Edward Heath secured a majority of 112 to approve the White Paper that contained within it the terms of our accession in principle to the then European Economic Community. That evening, Mr Heath returned to Downing Street and so moved was he that he sat at his piano as a means to compose himself. I can only hope that my brief remarks this afternoon will be as well tempered as the music that calmed the late Prime Minister.

I say that because, too often, this debate and all those who have concerned themselves with our departure from the European Union have been unfortunately characterised by frayed tempers. Characters and motivations have been impugned, and mistrust has been sown abundantly. This is a great shame, and I entirely agree that now is the time to heal such divisions.

As the noble Lord Hennessy said when giving evidence to the Procedure Committee, the question of the European Union

“makes the political weather and drives otherwise calm people to distraction.”

I admit to having been driven, at times, to such distraction.

Although it is easy to talk, in general terms, of reconciliation, I take this opportunity to apologise to anybody, including Members of this House, with whom I may have exchanged cross words, whose integrity I have doubted or with whom I have simply let the subject of the European Union impair my judgment.

The tone of the debate is important. Although it is understandable that momentous decisions stir passions, often it is not only what we say but how we say it that matters. Just like during the referendum, it pains me to see my hon. and right hon. Friends perhaps lose sight of the fact that, whatever happens next Tuesday, we must come back together.

A good number of my constituents have wondered why I have not publicly declared my position on the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration. Indeed, a number of my colleagues have expressed surprise that they have not heard a word on the matter. [Hon. Members: “Leadership.”] Not quite; I know my limits. Given my consistent view on the virtue of leaving the European Union, I will reassure, or perhaps disappoint, my colleagues. My view has not changed in the slightest. However, as I said at the outset of my speech, this is the most important matter to be considered for more than a generation, and it therefore warrants the utmost consideration, care and appreciation of the arguments.

There is much that is practical and to be commended in the withdrawal agreement and the declaration, and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for her tenacity, yet this honourable intent is now against a backdrop of fear. I have determined that how I vote next week will not be because of fear; nor will it be based on a misplaced optimism. Instead, it will be rooted in consistency and fidelity to my sense of what the United Kingdom is. As such, the Northern Ireland protocol contained in the withdrawal agreement is unacceptable, and the arguments have been much rehearsed. My right hon. Friend has her own reservations about it, and she must take from this, the will of the House, the strength and the instruction to change it.

Leaving the European Union is not a matter of left or right, Labour or Conservative; it is about a sovereign United Kingdom having the confidence to govern itself. It is as simple and—dare I say it?—as noble and beautiful as that.