UK’s Withdrawal from the EU

Part of Business of the House (Today) – in the House of Commons at 2:46 pm on 14th February 2019.

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Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Labour/Co-operative, Nottingham East 2:46 pm, 14th February 2019

We do have the Faroe Islands, but the deals with Turkey, Japan, South Korea and Canada will not be ready. As well as the breach with our largest trading partner, the European Union, we must add a breach and fracture in our trade arrangements with all those other countries.

Brexit is not just an economic tragedy, because there are other tragedies. My heart breaks when I think about the history of our country leading up to this moment: working in alliances with our European allies; those citizens’ rights that have accrued; and the ability not just of generations of people to come, work, live and study here, but of our children to do the same reciprocally.

We talk about the backstop as though that nomenclature somehow describes what we are talking about. Let us be plain about what we are hearing. Some hon. Members do not want a time limit to the backstop. Essentially, they are arguing for a time limit on open borders between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland—a time limit on the Good Friday agreement. When we put it in those terms, it is preposterous that we should be in this situation at all.

I hold the Government responsible for getting us into this run-the-clock-down strategy, but we should be completely honest about why we are in this situation. I wanted action today. Earlier this week, I said that we needed to snap out of this delusion now, because I worry about the time that we have in which to legislate on these things. I will have to cling to the hope of 27 February, but why are we waiting until then? It is because, in order to get the votes for a majority, we have to work cross-party. The truth is that an increasing number of Labour Members—even some on the Front Bench—are abstaining on votes, so we have to wait for Members on the payroll, Government Ministers, to do the brave thing and resign to counteract the loss of numbers on the Labour Benches. We should have a solid Labour move against this outrageous situation. The idea that the Labour party is not together in arguing against this tragedy—this disaster—is, for me, entirely heartbreaking.

In the amendment tabled by the Labour Front-Bench team, I no longer see the words, “option of a public vote”, which were in the Labour Front-Bench amendment of 29 January. I ask myself why are we regressing when it comes to our party’s policy, as passed at the September conference. Other Members have tabled amendments; I applaud my hon. Friend Geraint Davies, Dr Wollaston and other hon. Members, who have tried to put this matter of Labour party policy on the Order Paper today.

We have this new euphemism of “options on the table.” How long is this table, and when will we ever get to those options? It is absolutely not acceptable. On this particular issue, we are being played for fools by the leadership of the Labour party. By now, we should have reached the stage of a public vote on the option of remaining in the European Union. Nobody can explain to me seriously, without being lawyered, why we are not at that stage right now.

Mr Clarke was correct when he talked about the underlying reasons for this mess. Why are we at this groundhog day right now? The truth is that our party political system is shattered. It is broken, and it is letting this country down at a crucial time. This is the moment when we need leadership, but tragically, party political calculations and advantage are being put ahead of the national interest.