In the past two years, Brexit has become that unspeakable subject. This Christmas, most of our constituents will have had a no-politics rule at their Christmas dinner table. We are now a divided nation—a nation where talking of shooting politicians, of violence and of traitors has become commonplace and normalised. The violence is matched with the arrogance—the arrogance that everybody is right and that, eventually, everybody else will realise that they should give in because the others were right all along. We caricature each other: the middle class liberal elites and the northern working classes. For the past two years, this has become a country talking but not listening, and Brexit is at the heart of that. We claim that each other thinks the other is stupid, yet all the while no progress is being made. Little common ground is being found, and the public think that they hear little common sense.
There is one thing that we will all unite around. Tomorrow, the worst-kept plot twist in British politics will finally happen: we will have the vote on the Prime Minister’s deal and it will not pass this place. With all the heckling that will come, all the briefing to the press, and all the WhatsApp messages, hostilities will not be suspended by that agreement; they will be escalated. Moreover, respect, the urgent virulent potion that this country so badly needs for its people and for its politicians, will be found nowhere. What effect will there be? We vote tomorrow against this deal, and nothing will change. I will be voting against this deal, but we will be no further forward as a country. Our precious time has been wasted at every single stage of this process. The can has been kicked so far down the road that it is in the rest of Europe. We have fudging, fixing, and knighthoods being promised and still the British public see the truth. They see medicines already being stockpiled, the ferries being bought, the EU citizens being made to pay to stay, the lorries being parked and the jobs being lost.
No wonder this was doomed from the start. The red lines that the Prime Minister set made getting a deal that could have a positive outcome impossible for anybody. There is no way of being outside institutions that can abolish borders without creating them ourselves. Of course there was going to need to be a backstop. The Prime Minister says that this is the best deal possible; it is really not. The entire shape of this deal has been defined by the desperate desire to end freedom of movement and leave the single market accordingly, but I know from the Chancellor’s own figures what leaving the single market will do for my constituents and I know what not having freedom of movement will do for our public services and our economy. These red lines might have been red meat for the Brexiteers, but they will lead to many more of my constituents simply being in the red.
The truth is that I understand and respect everybody in this House for the views they hold and the responsibility that we all bear in finding what happens next. George Bernard Shaw said:
“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”
It is not enough for all of us to believe that we know what is right and think that will do.
Tomorrow we will vote against this deal, Chancellor; that is a given. But the day after and the day after that, the British public deserve that we find ways to listen and to work with them and hear their voices in finding a better deal. I believe that that comes from a people’s vote and a citizens’ assembly—I want to work with colleagues to look at those options—but above all I know that we have to work together. This country needs and deserves nothing less.