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European Union (Withdrawal) Act

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:00 pm on 25th March 2019.

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Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Labour/Co-operative, Redcar 9:00 pm, 25th March 2019

It is a pleasure to follow Tom Brake, and I want to put on the record how impressed I have been with the calibre and quality of the speeches this afternoon and evening. It has been quite overwhelming and they have done this place some credit. At a time when the House is being vilified—even being disrespected and undermined by the Prime Minister—I have heard Members speak with passion and commitment. There have been different views and perspectives, but everyone has tried to navigate their way through things and to do what is best for their constituents and the country.

I rise to support amendments (d), (f) and, in particular, (a). Finally, Parliament is taking control of the process; the Government should have set that in train two years ago. We are finally about to decide what Brexit actually is. The fundamental dilemma of the 2016 referendum was that it allowed everybody to project all their fears, anger, hopes and fantasies on to a simply binary question, and the result has been interpreted by many different people to mean many different things. As a consequence —we will have to get used to this—whatever option the House supports will be met with cries of “Betrayal” from those who do not get the version of Brexit that was in their mind when they voted, or even the version that they have developed over the past two and a half years.

The narrative of betrayal, which the Prime Minister stoked up last week, is toxic and needs to be confronted with honesty and courage. Whatever version of Brexit comes out the other side of the parliamentary mangle, MPs need to acknowledge that people will be disappointed, upset and even angered. Whatever we do risks losing votes, and possibly even seats, for all parties. That is why we need to be brave and vote in the country’s best interests.

Those who bandy around the word “betrayal” must be honest that the betrayal of the British people has already happened. The betrayal was to ask people to make a vague and over-simplistic decision, with insufficient information that was not honest about the real choices facing our country or the complexity of our economic integration with the European Union. The betrayal was rooted in the lies and fantasy promises that were told without any intention of being kept—like those on the side of the bus. The betrayal was the exploitation for personal and political ends of the justifiable and understandable grievances of left-behind areas and working-class communities such as mine. The betrayal was the legitimatisation of prejudice, hatred and division that we saw during that debate and have seen since. The betrayal was not to be honest that major constitutional changes should not be put forward to the public unless the work had been done to prepare for them. All that comes even before we have a proper inquiry into the potential law breaking.