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European Union (Withdrawal) Act

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:40 pm on 25th March 2019.

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Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex 7:40 pm, 25th March 2019

Mr Speaker, I will not long delay the House. I congratulate Stephen Gethins on making some very interesting points, many of which I find myself in agreement with. I also congratulate my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin on his absolutely formidable speech, which renders anything I can say in support pretty nugatory.

I will be voting for amendment (a) tonight, but I want to make some general points. It is of the greatest importance for our country that we should now move to a conclusion on what is merely the beginning of a tortuous road that will eventually lead to our departure from the European Union. Like my right hon. Friend, l voted to trigger article 50, despite serious reservations on the timing. I have voted with the Government in every single Division on the withdrawal Act and on every other piece of legislation to advance the delivery of Brexit. I have voted to leave and to honour the referendum many more times than my right hon. Friend Boris Johnson, my hon. Friend Mr Rees-Mogg, my right hon. Friend Mr Francois, my hon. Friend Mr Baker and many others. I find it ironic that those who apparently wish most fervently to leave are those who have most consistently voted against the withdrawal agreement and thus inhibited any real progress.

I should make it clear that there are no circumstances in which I will vote for a no deal, and nor will I back what would be a deeply divisive second referendum. Both are a recipe for further chaos and division, which should be unacceptable to those on all sides of this argument, for whom it is surely time for logic and common sense to prevail.

Like my hon. Friend Rory Stewart, I still believe in sanity. This is a country with a profound tradition of moderation and common sense. Our democratic institutions are elastic enough to be capable of compromise and of moving from the rhetoric of rejection to the painful necessity of an actual deal. It grieves me very much to see our influence abroad being so degraded, as the hon. Member for North East Fife said, as allies and partners who are close friends watch from afar with dismay as we burn up our reservoirs of good will and our reputation for common sense, most especially in the European Union.

Although it does not feel like it at the moment, this ancient country, in which we are so very privileged to live, is in general marked apart from many others by the tolerance, good nature and generally civilised manner of its democracy and institutions. These qualities are envied the world over; they need careful nurturing, but are currently entirely absent from the field. What on earth has happened to our pragmatism, self-restraint and common sense? It grieves me that our reputation is now under such extreme pressure at home and abroad; indeed, our reputation has been gravely diminished.

I greatly regret having to speak in this way in our Parliament; indeed, I cannot believe that I should need to do so. However, like many others, I find myself truly distraught at the painful, difficult and intractable position in which our country finds itself. What I really want, as, I am sure, do most Members of this House, is that the Government should be able to get on with the work of creating a more confident and hope-filled country that really cares for the weakest among us and for those who find their lives complicated and difficult; that encourages opportunity, enterprise and life chances; and that most especially keeps its vision of global service and influence, as a long-standing force for humanity and the general good.