[3rd Allotted Day]

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 4:32 pm on 6th December 2018.

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Photo of Andrew Lewer Andrew Lewer Conservative, Northampton South 4:32 pm, 6th December 2018

Although I am a former MEP and a current member of the European Scrutiny Committee, I have not consumed huge amounts of Chamber time talking about Brexit, largely because most of my constituents in Northampton South are, like me, just keen that we get on with it, and also because esteemed colleagues have said, in every variant imaginable, most of the things that I would have wished to say. However, as we reach this most critical of all critical moments, it is important now to be on the record, and my themes are principle, pragmatism, simplicity and complexity.

Many colleagues here pride themselves on their pragmatism and, indeed, have cited pragmatism as their overriding reason for supporting the withdrawal agreement. I recognise pragmatism as being of value as a means to an end—as a means for a person to achieve their objectives and their principles. What I do not recognise or accept is this concept that has captured some people of pragmatism being a principle. It is not. If being pragmatic defeats the principles that we seek to uphold, then it takes on a much less healthy character. That is the problem with this deal; it offends against some of the key principles which I and many others in this House hold dear. One of the most important of those is the Union. What higher principle can a lifelong member of the Conservative and Unionist party have than that of protecting and strengthening the Union? This deal would create a border down the Irish sea, separating Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK. To quote the Attorney General:

“for regulatory purposes GB is essentially treated as a third country by NI”.

It probably does not surprise DUP colleagues as much as it surprised me that a Conservative Government should be seeking to do this—that little bit of distance lending perspective—but I think it is crucial that Conservatives do not do this. The pragmatism? Well, that goes together quite nicely with this issue, because if we do pursue this deal, we will lose the support of the DUP altogether and then we cannot function as a Government.

Beyond the referendum is the manifesto that I and all Conservative colleagues were elected on, particularly page 36, which said that we would be out of the single market, the customs union and the European Court of Justice. That is one of my key reasons for not supporting the deal. My contract with the electorate is tied to the central concept in democracy that we mean what we say and we do not contribute to the growing sense of cynicism in public life. I am not going to say to my constituents, “I only said those things to you to get elected.” It seems like a straightforward principle to me.

The EU is like an onion; every time people get towards a clear view, there is another layer that an expert or someone involved in the Commission can unpeel to challenge people with a different view. It is right that we have explained much of that complexity in these huge debates in the Chamber, but it is more important for my constituents in Northampton South to have some simplicity. And here it is. The referendum result was leave. We were elected on a manifesto that made it abundantly clear what kind of leave we would undertake, and we formed a Government on that basis. This deal is not that leave; the indefinite backstop, the border down the Irish sea, the ongoing role of the ECJ are only the most prominent reasons why it is not. If this deal goes through, we lose our majority with our DUP friends. Simplicity, principle and even a good dose of pragmatism—all good reasons for saying no to this deal.