Leaving the European Union

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:36 pm on 26th February 2019.

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Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party 12:36 pm, 26th February 2019

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Tying the Government’s hands by seeking to commandeer the Order Paper would have far-reaching implications for the way in which the United Kingdom is governed and the balance of powers and responsibilities in our democratic institutions, and it would offer no solution to the challenge of finding a deal that this House can support. Neither would seeking an extension to article 50 now make getting a deal any easier. Ultimately the choices we face would remain unchanged: leave with a deal, leave with no deal, or have no Brexit. When it comes to the motion tomorrow, the House needs to come together, as we did on 29 January, and send a clear message that there is a stable majority in favour of leaving the EU with a deal.

A number of hon. and right hon. Members have understandably raised the rights of EU citizens living in the UK. As I set out last September, following the Salzburg summit, even in the event of no deal, the rights of the 3 million EU citizens living in the UK will be protected. That is our guarantee to them. They are our friends, our neighbours and our colleagues. We want them to stay. But a separate agreement for citizens’ rights is something the EU has been clear it does not have the legal authority for. If it is not done in a withdrawal agreement, these issues become a matter for member states, unless the EU was to agree a new mandate to take that forward.

At the very start of this process, the UK sought to separate out that issue, but the EU has been consistent on it. However, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has written to all his counterparts, and we are holding further urgent discussions with member states to seek assurances on the rights of UK citizens. I urge all EU countries to make this guarantee and end the uncertainty for these citizens. I hope that the Government’s efforts can give the House and EU citizens here in the UK the reassurances they need and deserve.

For some hon. and right hon. Members, taking the United Kingdom out of the European Union is the culmination of a long and sincerely fought campaign. For others, leaving the EU goes against much that they have stood for and fought for with equal sincerity for just as long. But Parliament gave the choice to the people. In doing so, we told them that we would honour their decision. That remains the resolve of this side of the House, but last night we learned that it is no longer the commitment of the Leader of the Opposition. He has gone back on his promise to respect the referendum result and now wants to hold a divisive second referendum that would take our country right back to square one. Anybody who voted Labour at the last election because they thought he would deliver Brexit will rightly be appalled.

This House voted to trigger article 50, and this House has a responsibility to deliver on the result. The very credibility of our democracy is at stake. By leaving the EU with a deal, we can move our country forward. Even with the uncertainty we face today, we have more people in work than ever before, wages growing at their fastest rate for a decade and debt falling as a share of the economy. If we can leave with a deal, end the uncertainty and move on beyond Brexit, we can do so much more to deliver real economic progress to every part of country.

I hope tomorrow this House can show that, with legally binding changes on the backstop, commitments to protect workers’ rights and the environment, an enhanced role for Parliament in the next phase of negotiations and a determination to address the wider concerns of those who voted to leave, we will have a deal that this House can support. In doing so, we can send a clear message that this House is resolved to honour the result of the referendum and leave the European Union with a deal. I commend this statement to the House.