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European Union (Withdrawal) Act

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:00 pm on 25th March 2019.

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Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Conservative, West Dorset 7:00 pm, 25th March 2019

I am glad that I did give way to the hon. Gentleman—first, because I am obviously very grateful that he and his colleagues will be supporting the amendment, and secondly, because I wholeheartedly endorse what he says. Personally, I am utterly opposed to revocation and I am also actually wholly unpersuaded of the merits of a people’s vote at the moment, but both are obviously serious options to consider. Incidentally, I am also radically opposed to a no-deal exit, but if some of my colleagues wish to put that forward as a serious proposition, it is a serious proposition that would need to be debated. Yes, it is essential that we should be able to look at all the serious options—not wild unicorns, but things that we could actually do to carry this process forward in one direction or another. I feel confident, Mr Speaker, that when you look at sensibly phrased motions of very different kinds, you will choose for debate all those that are serious possibilities that the House needs to consider; that is in the interests of the House and in the interests of the nation.

I will end my remarks by mentioning something that comes from personal experience. Liberal Democrat colleagues may recall this, as well as some of my hon. Friends on the Conservative Benches. There was a time, in 2010, when this nation faced another cliff edge. We were within days of the Bank of England discovering that our creditors would not finance the UK any more. It was just after the 2010 election, which no one had won, and it was clear that nobody could form a Government except by coalition. We were very heavily indebted due to what had happened in 2008, and we were told by the Governor of the Bank of England that if a coalition was not formed pretty quickly, he personally felt that the lenders would go on strike and we would have a meltdown.

Of course, there were then discussions between the Liberal Democrats and the Labour party, and between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative party. I was a part of the Conservative party team on that occasion and I was informed, when we had finished those negotiations and had brought them to a successful conclusion, that the cleverest and most experienced people in the civil service—incidentally, I do not wish to demean the civil service, and I hardly can because my wife was a senior civil servant—had put their collective minds to the task and formed teams to find out whether it was possible to have a coalition agreement, either between the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats or between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative party. They had worked the situation through in awesome detail and had convinced themselves that it was absolutely impossible to form a coalition—that it could not be done.

We sat down, and four days later there was a coalition agreement. And why did that come about? It came about because politicians sat down and were not concerned with the kinds of things that people are concerned with when they are very brilliant administrators, but were concerned with trying to find out how to accommodate the essential requirements of the other side. This is, of course, the process that should have happened two years back in this connection—but we have the opportunity to do it now. I hope and pray that if the House does vote for this amendment, it will not see this approach simply as a set of votes in the abstract, but as the beginning of a process in which, by discovery of where the land lies, we can then come together, find a consensus, get a majority and carry on forward in a sensible way.