[5th Allotted Day]

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Act – in the House of Commons at 7:31 pm on 9th January 2019.

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Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative, Stirling 7:31 pm, 9th January 2019

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. The respect that he describes is reciprocated—to him, and indeed to all his colleagues, whom I recognise as Unionists. I do understand the complexities, and a lot of the emotion as well, around the issue of Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom, but I have thought long and hard about Northern Ireland, as well as Scotland, and I believe that the backstop does not have to, and must not, represent a threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom, and that those of us who want to honour the decision of the people on 26 June must work together to make Brexit happen. Otherwise, we will have a crisis of political confidence in this country. There are so many people—sadly, on both sides of this House—who do not want to honour the result the people gave us in June 2016. The alternatives on offer are this agreement, no Brexit, or a hard, no-deal Brexit. I will come back to those points, but I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. Negotiations are about achieving the acceptable, but very rarely about achieving the perfect. The withdrawal agreement is a predictable compromise that is bearable for both sides—and, crucially, it delivers on the referendum result.

Since shortly after being elected to this House, I have served on the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee. Its latest report revisited evidence we had received 12 months earlier from businesses in strategically critical sectors of the UK economy—automotive, aerospace, pharmaceutical, and food and drink. We collected evidence on their response to the withdrawal agreement, and as we make clear in the report’s conclusion, while they would have preferred to have stuck with the status quo, they now need clarity and certainty, and for that reason, their consistent message to the Committee, and to the House through the report, is that we should support the withdrawal agreement. They were also very respectful of our democracy and accepted the result of the June 2016 referendum—something that so many in this House seem unprepared to do. These business leaders were prepared to accept that result, and they were actively seeking to apply a pragmatic approach to an undoubtedly complex set of problems. It is now for us parliamentarians to be pragmatic and deliver the certainty that businesses need, and we do that by supporting the withdrawal agreement.

I am a Unionist; it is core to who I am. I have an unshakeable belief in our country and its peoples, in Scotland and in the United Kingdom, the most successful political union in the history of the world. My warning to colleagues is simply this: nationalism is waiting in the wings. The withdrawal agreement is, in my judgment, no threat to the Union, but no deal is. The threat in Scotland is from the Scottish Nationalists; they want the disruption that no deal would bring, because their nationalism is more important to them than any other issue. They and their leader make no secret of the fact that their single unifying purpose is to break up the United Kingdom, and that transcends every other single issue, economic or social. They want chaos; they want the disruption, because they believe it will give them the platform to launch their bid, much talked about within their ranks, for a second independence referendum, so that they can break up the United Kingdom.

I say to those who advocate no deal, particularly Conservative Members, that to me, as a Scottish Unionist, they exhibit some of the same symptoms as the SNP. Like the SNP, they appear to be prepared to sacrifice jobs and prosperity to realise their version of our future.