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European Union (Withdrawal) Act

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:30 pm on 25th March 2019.

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Photo of Lisa Nandy Lisa Nandy Labour, Wigan 8:30 pm, 25th March 2019

I came to this debate as much to listen as to contribute, and I am very glad to follow my hon. Friend Helen Goodman, who, in a very rare way in these debates over the past few years, has set out a way in which we might move forward. That may not be comfortable for her and these may not all be her preferred options, but it shows a willingness to listen, to compromise and to move, which has been pretty absent, if we are honest, from this debate so far.

The attitudes out there in the country are hardening. Constituents of mine who told me three years ago that they voted leave and that they were happy to leave on whatever terms Parliament deemed necessary, as long as we respected the result, are now telling me daily that they want to cut all ties and leave with no deal at all. Constituents who voted to remain and who said that we had had the debate, that the other side had won fair and square and that we just had to get on with it are now telling me that they want to halt the process altogether and remain in the EU. Having spent a lot of time with colleagues trying to find a way through this in here and behind the scenes over the past few weeks, I feel that exactly the same thing is happening in Parliament. If we do not start to move, they will not start to move and there is absolutely no prospect of repairing this country.

That is why I very much welcome what Sir Oliver Letwin has done with the amendment, particularly the way in which he presented it. He is not seeking to control the outcome of this process. He is not seeking to do what many of his colleagues on each extreme of this debate have done for several years, which is to knock out any preferred option that is not theirs and undermine any of us who are trying to find a solution by questioning our good faith, intentions and motives.

As somebody who represents a constituency where two thirds of people voted to leave—they did so largely in full knowledge of what they were doing and still feel strongly about it—but where a third of people also voted to remain and have every bit as much of a stake in the future of this country as the rest, I have to say that that bad faith is operating on both sides of this debate. Those threats and the abuse are coming from both sides. I and many hon. Members face them daily, and to seek to pretend, as some Members just did in this debate, that it comes only from one side is quite simply not true. It is insulting and it will not stick.

I am very dismayed today about the Government’s position. I do not think that Ministers understand how little trust there is left. As we stand here in this Chamber, right now—according to lobby journalists who are briefing things out over social media—the Government are sitting in closed rooms trying to persuade Members on their own side to vote down this amendment in favour of guarantees. We have been here before. Time and again, they come to the Dispatch Box and they tell us they are serious. They tell us they are listening and that the House must make a decision, and then, when we get up and speak with one voice about what we want, they say, “Okay, we will go away and think about it.” They make some promises and pick off Members on their own side, and then, lo and behold, where are those promises when they most count? They are nowhere to be seen.

Given the mess that has been created in this country, what is wrong, honestly, with giving Parliament the right to consider the options that we want to put forward? We speak for very different communities in this country. When the Government seek to deny us a voice, they are not denying me a voice—who cares whether I have a voice?—they are denying the 75,000 people I represent in Wigan a voice and all other hon. Members besides.

I say to both Front-Bench teams that if we are to consider the options in good faith, given the very different needs and priorities of constituencies, a free vote has to be offered on those options. I understand the discomfort. I have served in the shadow Cabinet. It is not an easy thing to do, but when we have this strength of feeling and these very divergent views and experiences across the country, all those have to be heard if we are going to find a way through this.

I say to Ministers, too, that almost entirely absent now is not just the trust, but the good will. Last week, I could not believe what I was seeing when the Prime Minister took to the steps of Downing Street and tried to pit the people against Parliament. The public follow our lead. When we stand in here using language such as “betrayal” and “traitors”, is it any surprise that we step outside and find that same language levelled back at us? If she wants to restore good will, the first thing that she must do is apologise to Members of this House, who are all, in our very different ways and positions, trying to find a way through this in good faith. She must rule out no deal.

We will not believe that the Prime Minister is serious about the interests of the country if she is not—[Interruption.] The Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, Chris Heaton-Harris is asking me why. Last week, I had a constituent on the phone whose son was in line for a clinical trial in the European Union that could save his life. They do not know now whether he will get it. This is a child who has no certainty about what is going to happen next. I have a constituent who is on dialysis, who rang me to say that she has been told to expect some disruption in the event of no deal. When I went to a Minister to ask what the advice was, he said, “We are doing our best, but we cannot make any guarantees.” My sister is diabetic and has not slept for months because she does not know whether she will be able to access insulin. People can accuse me of scaremongering all they like, but the Government’s technical notice cannot tell us what will happen in the event of a no-deal Brexit. What sort of Government cannot guarantee access to medicines in just a week’s time?