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European Union (Withdrawal) Act

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:12 pm on 25th March 2019.

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Photo of James Cartlidge James Cartlidge Conservative, South Suffolk 8:12 pm, 25th March 2019

It is novel for me not to have a time limit, so I am used to those strictures.

It is a great pleasure to follow Hilary Benn, the Chairman of the Brexit Committee. He made the clear point that we have shown what we are against, but at some point, we as a House will have to show what we are in favour of. Speaking personally, I still think that the best deal on the table is the Prime Minister’s deal. It respects the referendum result, which is critical, and it deals with the complex problem of how on earth a country that has such integrated supply chains, with thousands of lorries coming through Dover, can maintain frictionless trade as far as possible, yet take back sovereignty in the key areas of the single market and the customs union. It is very difficult, but that circle has been squared in the Prime Minister’s proposal and I would like to vote for it again. However, I have to accept that it may not come back, and that so far it has been defeated very heavily indeed.

Although procedure is important—the amendments before us are about how Parliament brings forward the next stage of the debate—I do not want to focus on it. I believe that we must focus on first principles—the underlying principles of how we will deliver on the referendum result.

Keir Starmer said that we should consider a second referendum, a single market plus customs union and so on. However, there is one fundamental problem with all those proposals, which my constituents who voted to leave would raise. It is an issue that we all have to grapple with—free movement. I want to focus on two principles: free movement and free trade. Free movement is not an easy one, because it forces us to discuss immigration, to which we have so far failed to give anything like enough attention.

I feel strongly about the subject. In justifying a second referendum, it has been said that the facts have changed since the 2016 referendum and that therefore there should be another vote. We must consider what has changed, and whether, if it had been known in the referendum campaign of 2016, it would have led to a different result. I suggest that the single fact, if it had been known in advance, that would have had the most impact—whether we like it or not—is that Brexit has directly led to an unprecedented increase in immigration into this country from outside the EU.