Exiting the European Union: Meaningful Vote

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:24 pm on 11th December 2018.

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Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Minister of State (Cabinet Office) 2:24 pm, 11th December 2018

That is why, when the House comes to debate these matters again and vote on them, every Member, whichever side of the House they sit on and whichever party or part of the country they represent, must be aware that if they vote to reject the deal the Prime Minister has negotiated, they will also need to judge what alternative would both be negotiable with the EU and command a majority here.

I have to say that colleagues of mine and Opposition Members who have expressed strong views on European matters need to understand some home truths. Some have urged that we should simply press ahead, leave without any deal and move straight away to WTO terms. Hon. Members attracted by that option, perhaps on grounds of sovereignty, need to weigh the political attractiveness to them of that option against the fact that trade on WTO terms would do serious harm to our automotive, aerospace and agricultural sectors among others, and that at worst a sudden severing of preferential trade access in less than four months’ time would be hugely disruptive and harmful to our economy, with a direct cost in jobs and investment.

Those who advocate, by contrast, a different model for our future relations, whether Norway and the customs union or a Canada-style classic free trade agreement with the EU, have to address the reality that a withdrawal agreement covering citizens’ rights, a financial settlement and the question of the Irish border is an unavoidable gateway to negotiations on any of those outcomes. Because there will be a risk, whether large or small, of a gap between the end of the transitional period and the new partnership coming into effect, a backstop—an insurance policy of some kind for the Irish border—will also be an unavoidable part of such a withdrawal agreement.

Then there are those who urge a second referendum in the hope of reversing the decision of 2016. I have come to terms with the decision the people took, although I think the whole House knows that I hugely regretted it at the time. Those who champion a second referendum have to confront the fact that such an outcome would certainly be divisive but could not guarantee to be decisive in ending this debate. Further still, colleagues who champion that approach should not underestimate the damage that would be done to what is already fragile public confidence in our democratic institutions.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is determined to do everything in her power to secure the safeguards and assurances for which so many right hon. and hon. Members have called, and, as at every step in these negotiations, she is motivated by the national interest and by nothing else.

When we know the outcome of the talks now under way, the Government will bring the debate and the decision back to Parliament. At that point not only the Government but the House—every Member here—will have to confront the hard but inescapable choices that face our country today.