[9th Allotted Day]

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Act – in the House of Commons at 3:21 pm on 15th January 2019.

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Photo of Nicky Morgan Nicky Morgan Chair, Treasury Committee 3:21 pm, 15th January 2019

I can hear the joy on the Opposition Benches.

As the Attorney General said, this is only the end of phase 1. I think that the point he was trying to make in his speech was that today’s debate should be about the 625 pages of the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration. I will support the agreement tonight—as with my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke, people perhaps might not have expected that, given some of the statements I have made. I do not want to go into the detail, because it is easy to get stuck in the weeds of the EU debate and to talk about this appendix or that clause of the withdrawal agreement that we do not like. This House is in danger of getting so bogged down in the detail that we forget that the country is looking at us—not just at the detailed debate, but at the tone of the debate and the way that we conduct ourselves and disagree—and that we can do it well and in a way that, as Hilary Benn said, will hopefully, eventually, lead us to a place where there can be broader consensus and a majority can be found. Unfortunately, that ability to find a consensus has been somewhat lacking.

A previous Prime Minister talked about “general wellbeing”; there has not been nearly enough talk about flourishing. I have heard some contributors begin to say what people want—what is a positive way forward—and that is where we need to be, as a House, if the House does not approve the agreement tonight. The country is deeply divided, our constituencies are divided and this House is divided, but it is up to us as Members of Parliament to change the tone and start to heal the divisions if we are ever to get to talking about other issues. That is one of the lessons I have learned in the past two and half years. That is not to say that I have always practised it, but it is certainly something for which we should all aim.

Whatever is said today—whatever right hon. and hon. Members on all sides say—a substantial number of those watching and of our constituents will disagree with us. As we know, some will disagree more vehemently and violently than others, but there is a vast silent majority out in the country who are watching today and hoping against hope that the House does approve the agreement. On the basis of what I am hearing, I do not think they will be satisfied, but I have never before had so many members of the public coming up to me as a Member of Parliament and wishing us well for this vote. The country is watching what we do today and beyond.

I wrote an open letter to my constituents. I do not hear enough Members of Parliament talking about their constituencies in this debate today. We are their representatives. It is not about us; it is not about how we feel; it is not about our heads and our hearts: it is about who we are representing and what is best for them. I have come to a conclusion after wrestling with this greatly over the last two and a half years. Of course I would have been happy to see the referendum result go differently. I would be happy to see an even closer relationship with the EU going forward. But that is not what people voted for—the majority who voted in 2016. They did vote for change and it is up to us to deliver that change.

I have always been very clear that Brexit should not undermine our constitution, and we have put our representative democracy under massive strain through having one referendum. It should not be about undermining our economy, although that is not all about numbers. In order for people to flourish in this country, it is not just about the size of our economy—it is about other issues, too, that have not been tackled by Brexit, nor by the Government over the last two years as our UK politics have stalled. It should be about our values and not undermining our values as a country. One of those, undoubtedly, is that the British people are very independently minded, and I can understand why it is that people took the decision they did in June 2016.

Let me, in the time available, briefly take one issue from what the Attorney General said. If the deal goes down tonight, there are other deals—other models—on the table where I believe this House can find consensus and compromise. Carrying on with this deal cannot be an option, and I would be disappointed if the Prime Minister did that.