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European Union (Withdrawal) Act

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:32 pm on 25th March 2019.

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Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union) 9:32 pm, 25th March 2019

Owen Smith and my hon. Friend Tommy Sheppard are two extremely difficult acts to follow, but I will do my best in the limited time that I have.

We are now fractionally under 98 hours away from leaving the European Union without a deal. On Friday night, we are out without a deal unless the Government do something. When Helen Goodman, who is not in her place just now, listed some of the catastrophic impacts of a no-deal Brexit, the Minister, true to form, was sitting there mouthing across to her, “Thanks to you. Thanks to you. Thanks to you.” Even at this late stage, it is the fault of the hon. Lady, the fault of the Opposition, the fault of the Supreme Court: the fault of everybody apart from the Government, who claim that they have a mandate from the people from the referendum in 2016 and who have failed dismally to bring forward a credible, workable, sensible, rational or even sane way to implement that mandate.

Today, I heard an avid Brexiteer describe the withdrawal agreement as a stitch-up between the Prime Minister and the European Union. Well, that may be the case, because from day one she has sought to exclude anybody who might have been able to help in those negotiations who wanted anything different from her calamitous red lines. The Government still try to put forward the line that her deal is the only one the European Union was prepared to offer, but that is not true: it was the only one it could possibly offer within the confines of the red lines that she had used to paint herself and us all into a corner.

It has become quite clear that those red lines stand in the way of any deal being acceptable to anything close to a majority of those in this House and stand in the way of a deal that comes anywhere close to commanding a majority of support among the citizens of these nations. The red lines have to go. If that means the Prime Minister has to go, then she has to go. It is not only Anna Soubry who has to be prepared to say that this is much more important than one person’s political career.

The Prime Minister promised herself a free vote, whipped herself to vote against it and then lost. Government Whips have been giving contradictory advice to different Ministers about whether the Whip existed and whether it was one, two or three lines. Good luck to them trying to count whether they have 325 votes for tonight if they sometimes struggle to count up to three.

The Prime Minister cannot control her own party, but she now cannot even control her own Cabinet. She cannot go in one direction, because half the Cabinet will quit, and she cannot go in the other direction, because the other half will quit. Well, perhaps it is time the whole lot of them quit, so that we can take this issue back to the people. In any other democracy, if the Government failed to get their flagship policy through Parliament, the Head of State would have two options: a new Parliament or a new Government. Of course, in this democracy—or supposed democracy—when we have a chance to have a new Parliament, we also have a chance to have a new Government.

I find it astonishing that growing numbers of Conservative Members are saying they should be allowed a third chance at the meaningful vote because they did not understand that no deal might be taken off the table. They say that the circumstances have changed and that if they had known that the second vote was the last chance they would get, they might have voted differently. Is that the case? Is it the case that if people realise that circumstances have changed and that they had not understood what they were voting for, they should be allowed another chance? That is a good idea, and if it is okay for a few hundred Tory MPs, it sure as heck is good enough for the 60 million citizens who put all those MPs in place in the first place.

We hear Members talking about the number of people who took part in the referendum. I remind Members that the referendum did not ask what people wanted. Three years on from the referendum, with fewer than 100 hours left before we crash out without a deal, none of us can claim to know what any of those 17.5 million people were voting for. We know that they were voting to leave, but none of them was asked to vote on where they wanted to go. That is why we have to come up with a solution that commands the respect of the House and then put it to the people. It may not be the solution that I think is preferable—it may not be my first choice—but those who voted to leave, those who voted to remain and those who did not vote at all have to be given a choice.

I finish by saying that I have been reluctant to endorse wholeheartedly the campaign to revoke article 50, but if it becomes a choice between my nation being dragged out against the wishes of 62% of our people, and two other nations having to revoke article 50, with the option of coming back for another go later on, then article 50 has to be revoked. If we do not do this, in future another treaty will be revoked, thanks to the sovereign will of the people of my nation.