[6th Allotted Day]

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Act – in the House of Commons at 4:48 pm on 10th January 2019.

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Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Labour, Penistone and Stocksbridge 4:48 pm, 10th January 2019

I rise to speak as someone who voted remain in the 2016 referendum and I am astonished to find today’s debate has been dominated by the use of the word “compromise”, not because I do not agree with compromise but because for two and a half years we have had no sign of compromise, particularly from the Prime Minister—no attempt to reach out across the House, no attempt even to reach out across the Benches of her own party. So I am astonished suddenly to find, two and a half years later, that the deal on the table—the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration—is being presented to us and we are suddenly being told that we have to compromise. It seems to me that compromise has any meaning to the Prime Minister only when it relates to her deal and is on her terms.

I stand as somebody who did not vote for the article 50 Bill. As a result, I was accused in the media and by hard-line Brexiteers of being a traitor, but actually the reason I did not vote for the Bill was that I did not think that enough time had been given to building the necessary consensus across the House to make the process work. I believe that those of us who took that line have been proved correct.

I have repeatedly voted for amendments to legislation that want to deliver a deal that keeps the United Kingdom in the single market and the customs union. I am one of perhaps only 100 MPs who have done that repeatedly as legislation on Brexit has gone through the House. On every occasion, we were told that we were traitors to the cause of Brexit and denying the will of the people, but those votes were an attempt to compromise and to arrive at consensus on the best way forward, in the national interest and in line with the vote that was delivered in 2016.

Now, my colleagues and I on the remain side who do not like this deal are suddenly being told that we are on the extremes of the debate. There is nothing extreme about wanting to stay part of the largest trading bloc in the world, and there is nothing wrong or extreme about voting against a deal because it promises to make the country poorer.

The Prime Minister drew Brexiteer red lines around her negotiations, and because of that the deal before us includes a political declaration that gives no clear indication of the way forward for the long-term trading relationship. That means that if we get a new Prime Minister or another Brexit Minister in six months’ time, there will be no guarantee that we will not end up with a hard Brexit of the kind that could take about 7.6% off GDP. This is a blind Brexit, and it is impossible to listen to the language of compromise and to go along with it on the basis of a political declaration that gives us no clear shape for the way forward.

The problem is that the Prime Minister’s approach to the negotiations has effectively boxed the Government into a corner, with nowhere else to go. Parliament must not be intimidated or threatened. MPs who genuinely believe—not because of their ideology but because of a genuine belief—that the closest possible relationship with the European Union is the right way to go must be given the right to vote against this deal without threats or intimidation. That is really important.

If Parliament decides next week not to support the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration, it is the responsibility of the Government, not Parliament, to present their plan B. In that context, it will be incumbent on the Government to start talking seriously to Members of Parliament on both sides of the House to establish the way forward.

My feeling, however, is that there will be no consensus, because of the Prime Minister’s approach, which has driven the Government into a corner, and because of her Brexiteer red lines. We are going to be in an impasse, and on that basis, the only way forward is to go back to the people for a people’s vote. Colleagues say that that denies the will of the people, but we now know what leave looks like. Two years ago, at the time of the referendum, we did not know that. We were presented with fantasy promises about what leave would look like, none of which has been delivered. The people therefore have the right to have the final say and to give their informed consent on whether this agreement should form the basis of our future relationship with Europe.

I say to those on the Government Front Bench that I will be voting against the agreement next week, but if, before the vote next Tuesday, the Prime Minister were to offer a people’s vote in the form of a final-say referendum, I would seriously consider voting for the motion on the basis of an amendment that would give us the referendum we are looking for. I do not think that the Government will do that, but it will be on the Prime Minister’s and the Government’s heads if they refuse to listen to the views of people in this House and refuse to understand that the people of this country want a final say. The polls are telling us that, and it is for this Parliament to listen to the people and go back to the people.