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European Union (Withdrawal) Act

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:52 pm on 25th March 2019.

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Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Conservative, Beaconsfield 7:52 pm, 25th March 2019

They should indeed, particularly when anybody who participated in Saturday’s march, as I did, will have seen people who were optimistic, tolerant and filled with good humour and benevolence, even towards those with whom they disagree. It was very noticeable. I contrast that with some of the rabidity of the comments of which I have been on the receiving end from those who write to me and insist that, in some extraordinary way, the referendum has closed down areas of debate and made them illegitimate. My hon. and right hon. Friends on the Front Bench really need to ponder that when they consider why things are not working properly for us at present.

I do not want to take up too much of the House’s time, but it is for that reason that I have supported the efforts of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset and worked with him and others on amendment (a). Given that the Government have run into the sand and had their deal rejected, we have to find an alternative. I acknowledge that my right hon. Friend and I may differ in part on that alternative, but where we do not differ is in our willingness to have an open debate. I was greatly helped by the way in which he approached, in his characteristic and tolerant fashion, the examination of alternatives, just as I was by what the Opposition spokesman, Keir Starmer, said about the breadth of the approach that might be adopted. It is clear that, if we are going to make progress, there should be nothing that is forbidden to be discussed. It is equally clear that we have to create an environment in which individual Members of this House do not feel that by supporting one option they thereby close the opportunity to express a view on another.

I will say no more about process at the moment, except to point out that I think it most unlikely that, if this motion is passed, we will come to a conclusion on Wednesday. It is part of a process. It certainly must not be dragged out, because we are so short of time. Equally, however, we have to take it at a sensible pace. Given that we have taken two and a half years to get ourselves into a complete dead end, it is worth taking a few weeks to ensure that we can get ourselves out of it, and that is what we ought to do.

I am the first to accept that the outcome may not be my preferred one, which remains the same: whichever option we take, I happen to believe that the evidence is now very clear that the public would like a final say and an opportunity to express a completely alternative view, which might even be to remain in the EU. I think that is their right and that we should be aiming to achieve that. Whatever the outcome may be, amendment (a) offers, for the first time, an opportunity to do it. I entirely disagree with my hon. and right hon. Friends on the Front Bench that this is some desperate constitutional novelty. It is the House doing its job. I am afraid that the Government have only themselves to blame—through their intransigence over many months of signals being given right across the House—if on this occasion they have lost the leadership to the House itself. They could have had that leadership.

I will finish with a request. The Prime Minister is indeed the leader—the leading Minister—in this country. She is in post. Will she please provide that leadership? If she does that, participates fully in this process and is prepared to open her mind to the variety of options we are going to discuss and debate, and to close her mind to none of them, I believe she will find the solution to this problem and that the House will be able to support her. But that needs a change in mindset, both by her and by some of my right hon. and hon. Friends, to get out of this narrow focus.

I said earlier that I would find it disgraceful if the Cabinet minutes reflect putting party political advantage ahead of the national interest. I do not know whether that is true or not, but it has been very widely reported. We have to put the national interest first and listen to what people are saying to us. It seems to me there is a consistent pattern of wanting to bring this unhappy episode to a conclusion and to do so in a way that reflects majority opinion in this country. We can do that by identifying the options and then putting it back to the public.