[7th Allotted Day]

Part of Points of Order – in the House of Commons at 1:12 pm on 11th January 2019.

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Photo of Peter Heaton-Jones Peter Heaton-Jones Conservative, North Devon 1:12 pm, 11th January 2019

I will support the withdrawal agreement in the vote next Tuesday. In making that decision, I have kept one thing and one thing only uppermost in my mind: how do I best represent the people of North Devon and what is in our best interests? I am thinking only of the people of North Devon and what they put me here to do. They put me here to deliver Brexit. The 2016 referendum result in North Devon was clear: 58% voted leave. In the general election of 2017, I stood on a manifesto that committed to delivering Brexit. The result was clear, and deliver it I will.

I believe that the withdrawal agreement, while not perfect by any means, fulfils those pledges. It is not perfect; it is a compromise. There is some stuff in it that I do not like and there is probably some stuff in it that the EU27 do not like, but that is what a compromise is. I believe that the agreement fundamentally does deliver on Brexit. It gives us control over our borders, our money, our laws and our security. It does enough, in my view, to deliver Brexit, while avoiding the risks inherent in leaving without an agreement. We must avoid doing that.

Some say, mostly colleagues from across the House who are strong leave supporters, that the withdrawal agreement does not represent the Brexit they voted for and that they would therefore like me to vote against it. I am sorry, but I am not prepared to take that risk. It is simply too great. People will disagree and say, “It’ll all be fine. Of course we can leave without a deal. Of course there won’t be shortages of food and medicines. Of course there won’t be a hard border in Ireland, with all the potential consequences that brings. Of course we’ll be able to trade with the rest of the world in some tariff-free, sunlit upland.” I say to those people, “You might be right, but you might be wrong, and that is not a risk I am prepared to take.”

I want to be clear that I respect those who hold other views. I was much taken with the remarks of my right hon. Friend Sir Nicholas Soames, who said we need to be moderate in our language and that, if we disagree, we must do so respectfully. There is one thing I do disagree with, and that is the call for a second referendum or people’s vote. The time limit does not allow me to go into all the reasons why; they run to a page and a half of my speech. Quite simply, there is one thing to say: the real motivation of those who ask for a second referendum is to reverse the result of the first, and that is something up with which we will not put.

I want to say a word about a very important sector of the community and economy of North Devon—agriculture. Farmers are understandably concerned. I want the Government to do more, particularly with the Agriculture Bill. I have met the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on many occasions. Yesterday, there was a significant development when a group of farmers unions issued a very clear statement warning strongly against the risk of a no-deal Brexit and in favour of the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement. They have got this right.

I have come to a conclusion that I believe, in my judgment, is the best one for North Devon and the UK. I believe that this withdrawal agreement is just that. Whatever conclusion I come to, a large number of people in my constituency will disagree. It is simply impossible for me or anyone else in this House to please everyone, and it is impossible to reach a decision with which everyone will concur. However, it is my job to reach a judgment that I think is in the best interests of most people, and it is my judgment that there is one thing that most people agree with now, which is that we now just need to get on with it. Businesses, farmers and EU citizens living, working and providing such a valuable input to our economy here, as well as UK citizens living, working or retired in the EU, want certainty. They want to get on with it; I want to get on with it; my constituents in North Devon want to get on with it. This House should get on with it and support this withdrawal agreement.