[9th Allotted Day]

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Act – in the House of Commons at 2:14 pm on 15th January 2019.

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Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Father of the House of Commons 2:14 pm, 15th January 2019

I shall try to compete with the Opposition spokesman on brevity by being briefer than he was.

This is a chaotic debate in every conceivable way. Future generations will look back and be unable to imagine how we reduced ourselves to this disorderly exchange on a whole range of views, cutting across the parties, at a time when we were taking such a historic decision. That was summed up to me yesterday when I drove through the gates into New Palace Yard and was flanked on either side by lobbyists waving things at me. To my right, I had people waving yellow placards with the words “Leave means leave.” To my left, I had people waving European Union flags and demanding my support. In so far as anyone was shouting any clear message to me, it seemed that both sides were shouting the same thing. Both sides were demanding that I vote against the withdrawal agreement. That summed up the confusion, because both were pursuing objectives, neither of which I agreed with and which took us a million miles away from the national interest, which the House of Commons should surely turn itself to in the end.

We all know where we are coming from, and I am not going to labour my well-known views, because I have been here so long. Yesterday I slightly offended one of my very good friends in the House when I referred to hard-line remainers as well as hard-line Brexiteers. I confess that I am undoubtedly a hard-line remainer. I do not think that there is anyone more hard-line on the subject in the House. When I was a Cabinet Minister, I refused to vote for the referendum being held. The Prime Minister and the Chief Whip chose not to notice my attempts ostentatiously to abstain on the vote. I am the only person on the Government side of the House who voted against invoking article 50. I am a lifelong believer in the European project, and no opinion poll is ever going to change my mind at this stage.