[5th Allotted Day]

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Act – in the House of Commons at 3:21 pm on 9th January 2019.

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Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union 3:21 pm, 9th January 2019

I will give way in a moment, but I want to make this point because it is very important.

I campaigned to remain; I wanted to remain.

I agonised over whether we should trigger article 50, but I worked out that, having accepted the result of the referendum, it was not open to me to stop the Prime Minister starting the negotiations. What I wanted is for this House to have a proper role—by consensus, or at least by majority, if possible—in finding a way forward.

It was obvious that the sorts of arguments that are happening in the House, particularly among Conservative Members, if I may say so—I do not think that is controversial—would break out. It was obvious because for 30 years there has been a discussion, for want of a better word, in the Conservative party about not just the relationship with Europe but the vision for our country. That argument was always going to break out, and it was always going to divide Conservative Members. That is obvious, and it is not just an Opposition point. In those circumstances, a different Prime Minister might have said, “I can see what is going to happen down the line, and I need to bring Parliament into this.” That has been refused at every twist and turn.

Let us be honest that we are having a vote on Tuesday only because we fought to have it. I coined the phrase “meaningful vote”, and, working across parties, we got the amendment, which was resisted by the Government. They went through the Lobby to say no. We said, “You have to publish a plan,” and the only reason we got a plan was that we won an Opposition day motion—the Government were going to oppose that motion. We said that we wanted to know what the impact would be, and the Government said, “You can’t.” We had to get it via a Humble Address. We have seen the Supreme Court and the idea of even voting on article 50 in the first place, and then the Attorney General’s advice. The Government have persistently voted down every motion. The one thing I remember the first Brexit Secretary saying to me, over and again, on the article 50 Bill was that he wanted a clean Bill: “I want a clean Bill, and I will make sure that every amendment is voted down.” That was his avowed aim.