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[7th Allotted Day]

Part of Points of Order – in the House of Commons at 12:58 pm on 11th January 2019.

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Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland) 12:58 pm, 11th January 2019

When all is said and done, and everything that needs to be said has been said, this House is very good at saying it all over again. Mr Speaker, you could be forgiven for having a slight emotion of ennui, as you have heard these arguments run over and over again. I do not often feel sympathy for the wives of former Conservative Prime Ministers, but Lady Eden said she felt as though the Suez canal was flowing through her withdrawing room and I feel as though the British border on the island of Ireland is flowing through my living room. We have spent so much time on this, but are we any further forward?

Today’s debate has tended in some cases—I make no particular comment here—to go in a slightly bellicose, bombastic way; it is almost as though Palmerston had returned to Romford. I felt that Mr Francois was rather more channelling Horatio Bottomley than Horatio Nelson, although I think I understand what his emotion was.

We have discussed at great length the Gradgrind utilitarianism of the EU. I was one of those who voted in 1975 to join the European Union, partly having been seduced by Margaret Thatcher—not an expression Members will hear often in this House—but above all because, as a representative of one of the first generations in this island’s history not to have fought a European or continental war, I felt it was crucial that we looked to the European ideal. In all our discussions about trade, customs, barriers and the backstop, I think we are losing sight of that ideal. I am not saying that the European Union was a shining city on the hill, but it did set global standards for decency, inclusion, human rights, freedom of belief, freedom of worship, interdependence, environmental legislation, workers’ rights, animal rights and universal suffrage.

When Francis Fukuyama wrote “The End of History?” towards the end of the last century, he said that the whole world would sign up for those emotions. He was wrong. There are many countries in the world that do not recognise those ideals or the European standard. We are Europeans, and those of us who are proud to be members of this community and continent should recognise that we have a duty and a right to set the standards for many other people to at least emulate and learn from.

We are surrounded in a dangerous world. We have Kim Jong-un, Trump and Putin. We have terrifying figures all around the world. Closer to home we have difficulties, certainly, with Viktor Orbán, Kaczyński and some of the Visegrád Group, and yet we are talking about breaking up and walking away from a Union that is not just the most successful economic union but an ideal and an example for the rest of the world. Are we mad? Why on earth would we walk away from it?

I am not one of those who subscribe to the chimera—the false promise—of another referendum, which would inevitably be followed by a further referendum and then a best out of five. However, if, God forbid, we leave the European Union on 29 March, we must not forget to make sure that our European brothers, sisters and cousins know that we still have affection and friendship for them and that there is still support and interdependence. Every single Member of this House has a duty to work with our fellow Europeans, to let them know that, although this country may have made a decision, it does not separate us from the rest of Europe. It is a decision that I regret. Many of us regret it—more people regret it by the day—but we will not stop being Europeans. We owe it to those whom we have fought both against and with to look forward to the future as one people. Let us never, ever forget that, aside from all the discussions about trade deals, the WTO and the backstop, there is an ideal of a better, interdependent world of decent common human standards. That was represented well in Europe and it is represented in this House. Let us never, ever forget the debt we owe to each other.