Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Exiting the European Union

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:33 pm on 10th December 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party 3:33 pm, 10th December 2018

It honours the result of the referendum. It protects jobs, security and our Union. But it also represents the very best deal that is actually negotiable with the EU. I believe in it, as do many Members of this House, and I still believe there is a majority to be won in this House in support of it if I can secure additional reassurance on the question of the backstop, and that is what my focus will be in the days ahead.

But if you take a step back, it is clear that the House faces a much more fundamental question. Does this House want to deliver Brexit? [Hon. Members: “No!”] That is a clear message from the Scottish National party. If the House does want to deliver Brexit, does it want to do so through reaching an agreement with the EU? If the answer is yes, and I believe that is the answer of the majority of this House, then we all have to ask ourselves whether we are prepared to make a compromise, because there will be no enduring and successful Brexit without some compromise on both sides of the debate.

Many of the most controversial aspects of this deal, including the backstop, are simply inescapable facts of having a negotiated Brexit. Those Members who continue to disagree need to shoulder the responsibility of advocating an alternative solution that can be delivered, and do so without ducking its implications. So if you want a second referendum to overturn the result of the first, be honest that this risks dividing the country again, when as a House we should be striving to bring it back together. If you want to remain part of the single market and the customs union, be open that this would require free movement, rule taking across the economy and ongoing financial contributions—none of which are in my view compatible with the result of the referendum. If you want to leave without a deal, be up front that in the short term, this would cause significant economic damage to parts of our country who can least afford to bear the burden. I do not believe that any of those courses of action command a majority in this House. But notwithstanding that fact, for as long as we fail to agree a deal, the risk of an accidental no deal increases. So the Government will step up their work in preparation for that potential outcome, and the Cabinet will hold further discussions on it this week.

The vast majority of us accept the result of the referendum and want to leave with a deal. We have a responsibility to discharge. If we will the ends, we must also will the means. I know that Members across the House appreciate how important that responsibility is. I am very grateful to all Members on this side of the House—and a few on the other side, too—who have backed this deal and spoken up for it. Many others, I know, have been wrestling with their consciences, particularly over the question of the backstop. They are seized of the need to face up to the challenge posed by the Irish border, but genuinely concerned about the consequences. I have listened. I have heard those concerns and I will now do everything I possibly can to secure further assurances.

If I may, I will conclude on a personal note. On the morning after the referendum two and a half years ago, I knew that we had witnessed a defining moment for our democracy. Places that did not get a lot of attention at elections and did not get much coverage on the news were making their voices heard and saying that they wanted things to change. I knew in that moment that Parliament had to deliver for them. Of course that does not just mean delivering Brexit. It means working across all areas—building a stronger economy, improving public services, tackling social injustices—to make this a country that truly works for everyone—[Interruption.]