[7th Allotted Day]

Part of Points of Order – in the House of Commons at 1:32 pm on 11th January 2019.

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Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley 1:32 pm, 11th January 2019

It is a great pleasure to follow Martin Whitfield, who is my honourable friend from the Council of Europe. This is only the fourth time that I have spoken in a Brexit-related debate. It is not the fourth time I have spoken in any debate, and it is important to point out that we continue to participate in things that are going on as part of normal business. By speaking only in four Brexit-related debates I have not been ignoring Brexit, but for the reasons set out by my right hon. Friend Sir Nicholas Soames, in his fundamentally excellent speech at the beginning of this debate, I have been concerned by the language being used, and by the lack of respect for anyone who puts forward a contrary view, both in this place and outside. We have all seen Twitter feeds that have characterised that lack of respect.

My view on this process has been sorely tested, and a major turnoff for the British people comes from the humiliation of the Prime Minister and the British people by the European Commission. That humiliation followed the treatment of David Cameron when he tried to change the European Union. Are we surprised by that at all? We need only to think back to a Council of Europe meeting at which a pro-remain Member of this House questioned Mr Juncker, who was there as the equivalent of a visiting Head of State, about how he was going to handle the budget for the European Commission. To paraphrase his words, she was told to “mind her own business.” We had to remonstrate with him to get him to come back and answer the question. That lack of interest in and that arrogance about the whole matter have sorely tested my faith in the deal.

My approach to the Irish backstop is to look at it in terms of risk. If it is so unwanted by the European Union and we are so sure we will not use it ourselves, one has to ask why it is there in the first place. However, I fully accept, having assessed the risk, that the likelihood of our using it is so remote as to be almost infinitesimal.

Similarly, I do not believe a no-deal Brexit is all about WTO rules. In fact, I do not believe WTO rules are the principal reason for wanting a deal. The principal reason for wanting a deal is to bring to a close the 40-plus years for which we have had a relationship with the European Union—to ensure that we know how to deal with all those things that are hanging over the edge, such as legal cases, charging mechanisms and so on.

The Archbishop of Canterbury may, according to press reports, have changed his view about the need for a people’s vote, but I have not. For reasons that have already been set out, I do not think a new people’s vote is a good thing. In putting forward an alternative vision of what we need to do beyond Brexit-related issues, I am very keen to ensure that we are still players in Europe. We will do that by giving more credibility to the Council of Europe and our involvement in it. Why should we do that? There is one very good reason: our leaving the EU does not mean a bonfire of workers’ rights—they are protected by a 1961 treaty, which the Council of Europe brought in and we signed.