European Union (Withdrawal) Act

Part of Business of the House (Today) – in the House of Commons at 6:19 pm on 12th March 2019.

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Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Independent, Nottingham East 6:19 pm, 12th March 2019

I salute James Cartlidge for having the guts to speak truth to those in his own party who have got wrapped up in this idea that the WTO and no deal is somehow a great future. He is absolutely right to point out what he did, although I would opt for a different outcome, which is to give the people the chance to stay in the EU. The whole Brexit process has shown the worst of our politics, right from the beginning, with the Vote Leave campaign and its hubristic claims on the side of the red bus, and then tumbling into a series of errors of judgment by the Prime Minister, when she decided to trigger article 50, and accepted the frame that she would do the divorce terms only and kick into the long grass the future relationship between the EU and the UK. It has been a catastrophic negotiating failure right from the beginning. Then of course we had the Prime Minister’s stubborn resistance to move at all on the single market or customs union; there was no sense of reading the room and trying to gauge a solution as we go forward.

So we find ourselves with this deal today, but I have to say that it is not all about the backstop; some of us believe passionately that the Good Friday agreement should be defended and it should not just be left to other leaders across the EU27 to make that case. There are problems with this deal: parting with £50 billion of taxpayers’ money in exchange for no certainty on the future of what will come next; and the £40 billion a year in lost public service revenues that we are going to see for our schools, hospitals and other public services because of the austerity that will be created by that Brexit deal. We have the spring statement from the Chancellor tomorrow, when this will be the elephant in the room. The Chancellor will not talk about the Brexit effect on the public finances and the shadow Chancellor probably will not either—it will all be ignored.

There is a better plan, which is simply for Parliament to grow up, get a grip and decide on what terms of Brexit should be offered to the public in a public vote. We should of course extend article 50 at the European summit on 21 March to facilitate the time and allow us to go back to the public. That was precisely the amendment that the independent group tabled for today, and I hope that at some point this week we will be able to vote on this question of a public vote. After all, a people’s vote was the policy of the Labour party at its conference.

Has there ever been a time in our politics when we have been worse served by the leaderships of our main political parties? I commend those Back Benchers, some with very different views from mine, who have tried their best to navigate towards a solution. Many hon. and learned Members have put their backs into finding a solution, but they have found that the intransigence and tribalism of party politics has stubbornly stood in their way. We know that the Prime Minister is a prisoner of the ERG right wing on her side, but my patience with what was and has been going on in the Labour party has ended. I could no longer stay in the Labour party, standing by with its leadership enabling a Brexit that I know will hurt the livelihoods and jobs of our constituents. I say to my friends—