[6th Allotted Day]

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Act – in the House of Commons at 2:03 pm on 10th January 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley 2:03 pm, 10th January 2019

I want to say at the outset that the Government are now in such a position that we need a general election. They no longer have any authority, they no longer have a majority and, it seems to me, they no longer serve any useful purpose.

Before making my main points, I want to take issue with something the Secretary of State said in his opening speech—the right hon. Gentleman has unfortunately had to leave the Chamber. Essentially, he argued that a second referendum would be undemocratic. The premise of the whole argument was that the deal people voted for in 2016, or that they thought they were voting for, will be delivered by the Prime Minister’s deal, but it will not. The right hon. Gentleman knows that, as indeed does every Member of the House who campaigned in the referendum. We all know that the deal has no bearing on the reasons people voted to leave the European Union, and we should be clear about that. I do not think that it would be undemocratic to go back to the people almost three years later and ask, “Is this exactly what you voted for? Is this what you want to happen?” My first priority, because of what I have said about the Government, is to have a general election. If that is not going to happen, the next best thing, almost certainly, has to be a referendum.

I want to talk about two things. First, I want us to consider Britain’s place in the world. Winston Churchill, in his speech to the Tory party conference in 1948—it has been quoted repeatedly, but I think it is worth revisiting—described “three majestic circles” in the following terms:

“The first circle for us is naturally the British Commonwealth and Empire, with all that that comprises. Then there is also the English-speaking world in which we, Canada, and the other British Dominions and the United States play so important a part. And finally there is United Europe.”

Obviously, so much has changed since then that we cannot stick to that as a rigid formula, and I would not argue that we should do so, but let us quickly take each one of those circles in turn. The United States and Canada are both much more complicated places and have new networks of connections between them and with South America. Of course, in the current circumstances, as others have said, the idea that we can have a truly constructive relationship with the present US Administration beggars belief.

The English-speaking world has changed considerably. Our trade and relationship with the Commonwealth, for example with Australia, New Zealand and Canada, are now dramatically different. The idea that we could suddenly revive all those old relationships and everything will be fine is purely fanciful.

We still have, while we are a member of it, a relationship with the European Union. That does give us a bigger say in what happens around the world, because it is not just plucky little Britain as an island state saying something; it is often something we can say in concert with the rest of the European Union. My first point is therefore that we will be a diminished country in the world after we leave the European Union.

Secondly, I want to address some of the concerns that constituents raised with me on the doorstep during the referendum campaign. Yes, the main issue was immigration. It was not just about free movement of labour, although some people did mention that; it was about immigration in general. Another issue was the lack of opportunity for young people, which is a serious problem for many young people in my constituency. Another issue was the need to revive our towns and town centres, and not just in economic terms but with regard to the built environment. Concerns were raised about workers’ rights, particularly by those active in trade unions, and of course I agree on that. Concerns were also raised about the environment, which is the subject of today’s debate.

I firmly believe that we can get immigration right and better, and that the time is now propitious for us to do so, with Europe. We could implement cross-Europe policies to deal with migrant labour and those who seek asylum through other ports in Europe. The time is right for us to get a good agreement on that with Europe. In recent weeks, my party and the Government have started to publish new immigration policies. Let me be clear: I am not anti-immigration, but I accept that we have to have some kind of rational policy on it.

On education, health and all these other issues, the country is crying out for change and for new opportunities for young people. Why do we have to leave the European Union to get that? We do not have to. If we put forward to the British people a positive programme that still involves our being part of the European Union, they would probably want to go for it. They should certainly be given the opportunity to do so. Our future lies in our hands, but it does not necessarily lie outside the European Union.