Uk’S Withdrawal from the EU

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:01 pm on 27th February 2019.

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Photo of Owen Smith Owen Smith Labour, Pontypridd 6:01 pm, 27th February 2019

Yesterday, in sharp distinction to the “Groundhog Day” debates and statements from the Prime Minister that we have had previously, we had two really important concessions and changes in policy from the Government. One was the admission, at last, that the sovereignty of this House is important and that we cannot simply fall out of the EU through no deal and go on to WTO terms without this House having a say. That was always true, but the Prime Minister was forced to concede it yesterday. The second crucial concession was that it is not holy writ that we leave on 29 March and there may be a longer period. Those are both important concessions.

As colleagues of mine have said today, if we do get to the point, as I expect, of no deal being voted down by this House and there being a vote in favour of an extension of article 50, we need to make sure that that extension is used for a purpose and not for more of the ludicrous merry-go-round that we have had in recent months. In that context, I pay tribute to colleagues across the House—in particular, to Conservative Front Benchers who stood up for their values and refused to allow this place to be railroaded by the Prime Minister and driven to the edge of no deal.

However, the truth is that no deal is only marginally worse than the deal that is on offer. Indeed, one could argue quite rightly, as some in the ERG would, that in respect of the sovereignty arguments, the Prime Minister’s deal on offer right now is, in some regards, worse than no deal, however catastrophic that would be for the economy of our country. It is an absolute badge of shame for the Prime Minister that she has been dragged kicking and screaming to this point as we have lost jobs at Nissan, Honda, Ford and so many other companies across our country.

Yet my real concern is that the most likely outcome is still that the armchair generals of the ERG who loll languidly on their Benches are going to get their way—that they are going to get the Prime Minister to the point where Brexit goes through. They will ultimately, I think, be successful—the victors in this Russian roulette game that they have been playing for so long. There are those of us on the Opposition Benches and on the Conservative Benches who still understand and believe that Brexit is ultimately deeply destructive for our country, not just for our economy but for our values—for what we believe in, and not just in a Labour party that is overtly internationalist, outward-looking and tolerant, and understands that we need to be all those things to succeed in the 21st century and for the benefit of the wider culture of our society. It is not only me and other Opposition Members who are deeply worried by the rise in right-wing extremism in our country fuelled and delivered by Brexit. Unfortunately, those things will only be compounded if we exit, whether it is the Prime Minister’s or the ERG’s version of Brexit.