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

[5th Allotted Day]

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Act – in the House of Commons at 4:13 pm on 9th January 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Conservative, Sutton Coldfield 4:13 pm, 9th January 2019

I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. We have just heard two heavyweight and extremely important speeches from the two Front Benches. I congratulate the new—he is not really new anymore—Brexit Secretary on his grip on the extraordinary complexity of detail that he so evidently demonstrated at the Dispatch Box. I have only rarely troubled the House with my views on Brexit— I think this is only the second time I have done so— and I have approached the whole process on the basis that as Government Back Benchers, it is our job to try to assist the Government in reaching a satisfactory deal. Our job is to support and assist.

We have some special issues in the west midlands. My hon. Friend Julian Knight has made it clear that the issue of just-in-time supply is important to us there, but this is not just about cars. It is also about food. Much of the food in this country is not stored in a warehouse, but is on a motorway, so just-in-time supply is a very important matter for us.

I also think the comments made by my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin and the Father of the House, my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke, and indeed the response from the shadow Brexit Secretary, are a very important start to this resumed debate and need to inform our discussions.

It has always been quite clear that it is the Government’s job to propose and Parliament’s job to dispose. Let me be clear: I have great sympathy for the Prime Minister. I served with her in Cabinet and shadow Cabinet for seven and a half years, and I believe that she has a steadfast determination and integrity. No Prime Minister could have given so much time to the House at the Dispatch Box on this issue. However, I have to say that I have been astonished that she would bring back to the House of Commons a deal that she knows she has absolutely no chance whatsoever of getting through, and apparently with no plan B. I think this is a matter of very great concern.

The Government are accountable to Parliament. We have had the beginnings of a new constitutional strategy: that it should be the other way around, and somehow the House of Commons should be accountable to the Government. That is not the way we do things. While I was unable to support the amendment last night, because I thought it fettered the Government’s ability for Executive action too much, I did support the amendment to the Business of the House motion this afternoon, because I think the House of Commons now has to be very clear that if the deal does not go through next week, this House of Commons has got to reach some conclusions and, if I may coin a phrase, take back control. It seems to be that it should do so on the basis of what my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset and my right hon. and learned Friend the Father of the House were saying.

As of today, I cannot understand what the Government’s strategy is or has been. It has all the appearances of drawing on the strategy pursued by Lord Cardigan at the charge of the Light Brigade in Crimea. Indeed, it does not seem to be a strategy at all. As Sun Tzu, the famous Chinese general, said:

“Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

The danger with the tactics being pursued was set out very eloquently by the first Brexit Secretary, and they of course relate to the issue of the backstop and of sequencing.

In summary, with the greatest of regret, I am unable to support the Prime Minister in the Lobby next week. Briefly, that is for three reasons. The first is to do with the backstop. The backstop issues have been very well rehearsed. In the royal town of Sutton Coldfield, we had the pleasure of welcoming Arlene Foster to speak, and it was very clear to me that her reservations about the treatment of Northern Ireland on the backstop were extremely difficult.

I would make this point in addition to what has been said already about the position of Northern Ireland. Having now been in this House for nearly 30 years, on and off, I have sat through heartbreaking statements about the situation there, with the violence that so dreadfully afflicted Northern Ireland for so very long and, indeed, that went wider than Northern Ireland. The fact is that there was a hard-won, hard-fought treaty—lodged at the United Nations—which says there shall be no border in Northern Ireland. For me, that is the beginning and the end of the matter.