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European Union (Withdrawal) Act

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:07 pm on 25th March 2019.

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Photo of Anna Soubry Anna Soubry Independent, Broxtowe 9:07 pm, 25th March 2019

The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but I can tell him for a fact that British business will never forgive the Conservative party for what it has done to business throughout the whole of this Brexit process. Many of us have said this all before, but it is absolutely the case that people like me voted to trigger article 50—the majority of us did. The majority of us voted for the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, and the majority of us accepted that we were leaving the European Union. As Sir Oliver Letwin has explained, we then reached out to find a way of reuniting our country and a way in which we could deliver on the result but do the right thing by British business, by minimising the effect on it, and of course avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland.

In our efforts, we made direct pleas to the Prime Minister in meetings with her and offered her a solution, knowing, for example, that the Scottish National party would have voted for the single market and the customs union, as would Plaid Cymru and many Labour Back Benchers. We would have won a consensus, but she point-blank refused to engage in that. Instead, this Prime Minister has led us—it is the only thing on which she has led—to this terrible situation. She was dogmatic in laying down her red lines, and at every twist and turn when she had the opportunity to change those red lines or just rub them out a little she refused.

I say to Conservative Members that what almost all of them have also spectacularly forgotten is that when we had the general election in June 2017, more than 30 Conservative Members of Parliament in England and Wales lost their seats. The Conservative party lost its majority; there is no mandate for hard Brexit. That was the perfect opportunity for the Prime Minister to abandon the red lines and seek to form the consensus that the country was crying out for, but, yet again, she absolutely refused to do it. It ended up with people, not just those like me, leaving the Conservative party. I represent many sensible, moderate, pragmatic, one nation Tories who are leaving the Conservative party as they see it moving to the right, no longer the party of business and enterprise, and no longer having the one nation Conservatism that so many of us held so near to us. Having failed to persuade the Prime Minister to reach out and build a consensus, we ended up in a position where the only way out that we could see for our great nation was to have a people’s vote.

Others have spoken about what happened on Saturday. It was a real honour and privilege to be here in London and go on that march with people from all over the UK. These were not, as one Conservative Member described them, just fans of the Glyndebourne opera; they were real people from not only my constituency—and of all backgrounds and all ages—but from, for example, the constituency of the hon. Member for Redcar. I know she was heartbroken that she had another engagement and so she could not be here. We know that workers came down from the north-east. The really striking thing was not only people’s background, but to see children with their parents and grandparents, all of them marching in a spirit of hope and happiness, even though they were upset about the referendum result.