For all the division in this House, I have not met a single Member, privately or publicly, who believes this motion has a chance of being passed tonight. For many Opposition Members, that is not because of the withdrawal agreement itself but because of the complete absence of clarity about what is to come next. Almost three years after one of the most divisive episodes in British history, it beggars belief that the Government are asking for our votes while being unable to tell us even the broad direction of travel.
I represent a constituency with a huge number of food manufacturing jobs, which are at stake. Two visions of the future are on offer, one in which we retain close economic ties with the EU, with the rights, working protections and living standards that go with them, and another in which we follow the US and China in a race-to-the-bottom, zero-hours, no-hope economy, which would have profound implications for my constituency and many others. I have discussed it with the Prime Minister, and I am grateful for her time but, with hours to go until the vote, there is no clarity about what comes next.
I have also been honest with the Prime Minister about the fact that Members of Parliament like me, who from the beginning have sought a way through this and who have looked for reasons to vote for the withdrawal agreement, need confidence that there is a role for Parliament in what comes next. We are a deeply divided country, and we represent a range of views in this House. All parts must be heard, but I say to my friends and colleagues that we, collectively, have not risen to the challenge. I have heard Members on both sides of the House pretend that no deal is a political hoax, not a legal reality. I have heard Members pretend that we can resolve no deal and avoid that catastrophic scenario simply by wishing or voting it so, but we cannot. We cannot continue to grandstand, to remain in our entrenched positions and to call one another “traitor,” as I have heard again in today’s debate, despite death threats, abuse and the murder of one of my colleagues in recent years. It will not do.
I say to both the Government Front Bench and the Labour Front Bench that none of us will hang on to power, or the prospect of power, by a sleight of hand. We are here to lead, and to lead in the country’s interest, not in our own interest. I have not seen this level of anger directed towards MPs since I was first elected nearly 10 years ago during the expenses scandal.
We are playing with fire, we are breaking our democracy, but there is the hope: the public are better than we are. For all that the extremes have tried to drown it out, there is a decent, sensible, pragmatic majority in this country that wants a way through. We cannot go on arguing about the will of the people or dividing people with our binary choices. Let’s ask them to help us to resolve it, as they did in Ireland, Canada, Australia and this week in France with President Macron responding to widespread unrest. In just seven weeks, a citizens’ assembly could make recommendations to this Parliament to help us to break the deadlock.
That said, a citizens’ assembly would not offer us an escape from hard choices, or respite from them. Choices have to be made. Every option facing the country has costs. There is a clear trade-off between democratic harm and economic harm and we have to be honest with people. Nearly three years after the referendum, we cannot continue to lie to the people. When this deal is voted down, it will be time to begin to work together and tell the truth.