Uk’S Withdrawal from the European Union

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:26 pm on 13th March 2019.

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Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Father of the House of Commons 4:26 pm, 13th March 2019

I really should get on. I am not a Front-Bench spokesman, and lots of people want to speak. I am tempted to give way and debate—I would like to— but, knowing myself, I know I would take too long if I did.

I do not wish to intrude on tomorrow’s debate, but we need to agree as quickly as possible what we are now seeking and the reason for the delay that I think the majority of the House is going to seek. It is important that we do that. Not only is opinion polarised here—lots of factions are pursuing their own preferred ways—but the public are even more polarised than at the time of the referendum. They hold the House in near contempt for the confusion they see, and the sooner we decide what the majority here wish to pursue as an alternative to leaving without a deal, the better, and to do that we may need some time. I have been calling for indicative votes for a very long time, and the Government have been resisting and avoiding them. The only way to proceed now is to explore and demonstrate the view of the House.

I have a suggestion for what might placate the public, satisfy a lot of leavers and remainers and command majority support across the House. If I was outside speaking on a public platform to a less well-informed audience, I would suggest reverting to leaving the political European Union and staying in the common market, which nowadays means the customs union and the single market, or something very much like it. I think that quite a lot of the public thought that that was what they were voting for when they voted leave. If we put that proposition to the public now, it certainly would not be as polarising as some of the arguments we are having inside and outside this House, which are having such a dramatic and catastrophic effect on the nation’s political dialogue.