I do not recall a time when the fractured state of our politics so accurately mirrored that of our nation. Brexit demanded so much more of us in this place. It was brand-new territory, and for it we needed a brand-new approach to how we did our debating and politics, but these proposals for consensus building across party boundaries were rejected by the Government. The vacuum left in British politics, as MPs and parties have struggled to respond, has been filled by a racist and divisive rhetoric that is creating an inward, nationalist and isolationist environment.
We have been left with an angry country. People are angry because we are leaving the EU or because they want out and it is taking too long, but most of all they are angry with us, even though, in large part, regardless of what political party we are in, whether we are leavers or remainers, we are genuinely trying to do the right thing by our constituents and our country. I campaigned for remain, believing it to be in the best interests of my constituents and my country, but neither agreed with me. In the initial aftermath, I was in denial. I fell into the trap of repeating the mantra that people did not know what they were voting for, they were lied to and they misunderstood the implications of their decisions. While there was some element of truth in that, it was far more nuanced, because complex decisions and human motivation are never so simplistic.
I knew that from people such as my dad—a decent, kind and hard-working man, a retired welder from the shipyards. He and his mates were not angry at economic migrants who had crossed the channel from Europe to work alongside them; they were angry with the Government and institutions that exploited those migrants by allowing the undercutting of wages. That led to him and thousands of others losing their jobs. None of us should ever underestimate the impact that unemployment on this scale can have on individuals, their families and their communities. These scars are irrevocable. That was when disillusion set in. Freedom of movement and the single market were not problems for my dad and his mates. It was about Governments that allowed unemployment to shatter families and communities, Governments that used the EU as a handy repository for blame whenever they failed people; Governments that for decades made no effort to tell anybody the ways in which the EU was a “good thing” and then wondered why they could not get across the message in a few weeks; and Governments that left people behind and created chasms in our communities. These are the people constituents such as mine had in mind when they voted to leave.
I trust the people who sent me to Parliament. In a representative democracy, it is my job to do what I think is best for the people who elected me, unless they have already made their opinions on the subject perfectly plain. They have and over the past two years they have not changed their minds about leaving, so it is now up to me to see that they get what they want. It is my job to thrash these things out in Parliament. That is why I voted to trigger article 50 and why I stood on a manifesto that promised to respect the outcome. We should leave, but I do not want us to leave in this way—not with this deal. I am not convinced that a second referendum would solve the impasse. My constituents tell me that they find it a strange concept: a democratic way of overturning a previous and also democratic decision, which in turn supplanted the democratic decision taken 40 years earlier. I also fear that such a referendum will delay the inevitable and we will be right back to where we are now, trying to find a deal that works for all. I do not accept that the choices on offer are as binary as accepting this deal or crashing out. There is another option: an extension to article 50, giving us the space, albeit a small timeframe, to do our politics differently, to restore our country’s faith in this place and to show people that we really are working together. Crucially, for that to happen there needs to be a marked difference in the rhetoric and actions coming from this Government and the Prime Minister. If we continue to fail to deliver the mandate we have been given by the British people, what little trust remains in politics and politicians will surely evaporate.