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I have been elected to this House twice since the referendum: first in a by-election, and then a short 12 weeks later in the general election. Both times, I was elected on a clear promise and a manifesto commitment that said that we would respect the outcome of the referendum. In my mind, that means that we leave the European Union, but do so in a way that causes the least economic damage. That does not mean a hard no-deal Brexit or a second referendum, which I do not support and think would do nothing but further entrench the divisions in our society.
The anomaly of this debate is that, frankly, everyone contributing today has made up their mind. Everyone who will contribute on Monday and Tuesday has made up their mind. In fact, we could probably have a good guess now as to the final numbers in the Division on Tuesday—that is, that the Prime Minister’s deal is dead; it is sunk; it is no more. The real debate we should be having is about what we do next. What does this country do next that avoids the current default option of no deal, but at the same time allows us to honour the spirit of the referendum and untie our political union with the European Union?
My leave-voting constituency was 70:30. In parts, it was 80:20. My constituents were quite clear. Contrary to the emails I have received, they were not racist, prejudiced or thick. And it was not the case that they “did not understand” or “did not know”. My particular favourite was the lady from London, who emailed me to say that I should get a subscription to The Guardian for every person who voted leave—then they would really understand what life is like in this country.
We should be looking at how we can heal the nation as a whole. I say to my constituents who say that we need to get out of Europe at all costs, Europe is not the cause of our problems, but nor is it the salvation. It was not until ’97 when a Labour Government came to power that we signed the social chapter, despite it being a piece of European policy from ’93. When workers’ rights were attacked by the Conservative Government by doubling the continuity of service before workers could access them, it was not Europe that stood up for them, it was the trade union movement. When the Trade Union Act 2016 was introduced to try to take away that power, it was the Labour party that stood up against it, not the European Union.
In my constituency we have lower wages. We rank 13th in social deprivation tables. We have a hospital in financial special measures. Young people in my constituency struggle to get a house, get a job or go to college. That is while we are members of the European Union. The European Union offers no bulwark against the social inequalities we see today, which are predominantly driven by domestic issues perpetrated by the Government. We should spend our time and energy working out the radical domestic policy agenda that we want to enact as a Parliament and as a country to deal with those social ills.
So far the debate has focused almost entirely on process. We have talked about votes, amendments, the order of amendments, the membership of sifting committees, whether the House of Lords gets to have a vote that stops something, or whether an amendment is binding. My constituents frankly do not care about that. They want to know how they will feed their kids and heat their house, and how they will get to work if there is no bus. How will they make ends meet if they have to move from their current benefit on to universal credit? Those are the issues that motivate people in my constituency, and the sooner we move away from Brexit the better.
That does not mean, however, that we should simply sign up to any deal that the Prime Minister puts forward. I do not know what the alternative is, but no one else in the Chamber appears to know either. Everyone says that no deal is not an option—fine, let’s take that. We are unlikely to have a general election because the Conservative party does not voluntarily give up power. That is not what it does, although it might fall apart in front us, which is delightful. I do not support a second referendum, so I simply ask the House: what do we do next?