I was brought up to believe strongly that the EU was a force for peace and prosperity. My maternal grandmother, whose parents had been badly affected in two world wars, is still a great believer in the European Union. My father has spent his career embedding British values in European projects. I am an Erasmus scholar, and I used to work for the Christian Democratic Union of Germany. I am also a linguist of sorts, although my daughter did say the other day, “Mummy, you think you speak Italian. Sadly, nobody else agrees.” I cut my political teeth in the events leading up to 1989, when students from around the EU acted together to overcome communism, which was really exciting for an 18-year-old.
So, I was a remainer, but stronger by far than my respect for the EU is my love for this nation, for our institutions, for our hard work, for the rule of law, and for the common law, in which I have spent my whole career working. I believe in our flexible—if I can cheekily say that to you, Mr Speaker—but stable constitution, and in a robust democracy that has endured for centuries, and that is why I cannot support a second referendum.
I wonder whether my European Research Group colleagues have ever read to the end of the fabulous leaflet that was delivered to all households before the 2016 referendum. Colleagues might remember it, but I bet my ERG colleagues never got to the page near the back, which reads:
“This is your decision. The Government will implement what you decide.”
The back page says, in bold, that
“The EU referendum is a once in a generation decision.”
We must do this.
Colleagues will realise that this is a considerable compromise—to use the word of the moment—for me. It is one that I will make because I respect the decision of my constituents and of others across the nation who voted to leave, but I say to colleagues—particularly fellow Conservative Members—who propose to vote against the withdrawal agreement that they must compromise, too. I politely and respectfully say to Opposition Members, respecting much of what Angela Smith just said, that it is ridiculous to think that they could negotiate a better deal from where we are now.
The Prime Minister, for whom I have considerable respect, and thousands of civil servants, for whom I also have considerable respect, have spent two and a half years working hard to get this agreement. It has tariffs at zero. It does quite a lot—not everything we want, but quite a lot—for citizens’ rights. There is clearly a lot more work to do, but it is a fair start, and it is where we are at this minute. I say to Conservative Members that there is a real risk that those who want a harder Brexit will end up with no Brexit at all. As a democrat, I do not believe that that would be the right outcome—although let me say that if there is a second referendum, I will campaign with every fibre of my being. Let us hope that rabbits can be pulled out of the hat in the next week.