Article 50 Extension

Part of Destitution Domestic Violence Concession (Eligibility) – in the House of Commons at 5:38 pm on 20th March 2019.

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Photo of Anna Soubry Anna Soubry Independent, Broxtowe 5:38 pm, 20th March 2019

I will try to keep my comments short because many others want to speak and I have spoken a lot in the last couple of weeks.

As we all know, it feels like groundhog day, but we have had the privilege this afternoon of hearing some outstanding speeches. It is the content, in particular, of some of those speeches that should concern members of the Government and those who sit behind them. I am thinking, for example, of the comments of Justine Greening and of my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve, who did not hold back in describing his sheer despair, as a long-serving Conservative Member, at our situation—a situation that is of the Government’s and, in particular, the Prime Minister’s own making. It does not give anybody any pleasure to say that.

I listened with great care, as I always do, to the wise words of Hilary Benn, who always speaks with dignity, wisdom and experience. In a pragmatic and sensible way, he seeks often to provide the very leadership that has been so desperately lacking in the past three years. He said that he did not like to engage in the blame game, and I agree with him. However, it is absolutely critical, as others have said—including Alison McGovern, and, indeed, the hon. Member for Leicester East—[Hon. Members: “Leicester West.”] I mean Liz Kendall. East or west, it is always very good in Leicester—not as good as in Nottingham, but that is by the way.

Let me say this, in all seriousness. Those Members made very important points, as ever, about how the Government are interpreting events and, quite wrongly, trying to set this place up as if it were in opposition to this thing called “the will of the people”. That could not be further from the truth. There are many right hon. and hon. Members who, from the very outset, have spoken without fear or favour on behalf of their constituents, doing the job that we are here to do, which is to represent all our constituents, not just to pander to the members of our political parties.

I would like to think that this was an inaccurate tweeted representation, but what a shameful moment it was when, apparently, one Conservative Member asked another, “Why did you vote in the way that you did?” and received the reply, “Well, it is my association annual general meeting this week.” That is the simple reality—the truth of the situation that we are in.

I have said this before, and others have said it as well. We know of Members, primarily Conservative Members, who regularly vote not in accordance with their consciences or what they believe is in the interests of their constituents, but because they are fearful either of being attacked or assaulted—and as you know, Mr Speaker, that is a very real threat to many—or of being deselected by their Conservative associations. That is a fact. It goes to the very root of democracy, and also, I believe, to the heart of much of what has happened over the past three years: the inability of people to speak with honesty, and to do the right thing by their constituents.

There is a sense of despair in the country, which is reflected in this place. I will not say who it was, but a Member who sits on these Benches, although not in the area where I sit—they know who they are—said to me at about half-past 8 or 9 o’clock this morning, “For goodness sake, will she,” meaning the Prime Minister, “not now listen, and reach out, and try to form some sort of compromise and way forward?” I had to reply, “I am afraid to say, on the basis of my experience, that this Prime Minister will not listen to anyone who does not agree with her, and when she does listen and does change her mind, it is only in response to those on the hard Brexit right of the Conservative party.”

What we should all seek to do is put our country first. Let me echo what was said by the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield—and it must have been heavy and difficult for him to say it. I am afraid that time and again, when this Prime Minister should be putting her country first, she is putting her party first, and that cannot be right.