Eu: Withdrawal and Future Relationship (Motions)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:43 pm on 27th March 2019.

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Photo of Chuka Umunna Chuka Umunna Independent, Streatham 5:43 pm, 27th March 2019

I have five quick points, or thereabouts, to make in five minutes.

First, it is an absolute and utter disgrace that it has come to this—that the Back Benches of this House are having to force the Government to follow a process to reach a decision. The Prime Minister should have been the one sponsoring and initiating this process—that is called leadership—but the reason why time and again she has failed to do so is that she always fails to face down the ideological zealots in her own party.

The Prime Minister has suggested that if what comes out of this process—and I hope we get a majority behind something—is at variance with what she has proposed she may simply ignore Parliament. But this is a parliamentary democracy, and the campaigns to leave the EU were fought in the name of parliamentary sovereignty. Is she seriously saying she can maintain any credibility or authority in her negotiations with the EU Council if she seeks to set her face against the will as expressed by the House through this process?

On the substance of the motions, I will be supporting the people’s vote motion tabled by Margaret Beckett—motion (M)—and I commend her for her excellent speech, which explained far better than I could why we should all support the motion. However, I will explain why I personally support it. As a House, we had a duty in the last Parliament to try to square the circle between the promises that were made in the 2016 referendum and what was deliverable. That is why I voted against—against my heart—to invoke article 50 two years ago. However, with every week that has passed, we have seen not only that the campaigns to leave the European Union lied but that they have broken their promises, and the Electoral Commission has confirmed that they cheated, too.

I listened carefully to the speeches of the hon. Members for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) and for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) about the importance of delivering on the result of the referendum, but the problem that this Parliament has been grappling with is that it is impossible to deliver on the mythical, fantastical promises that were made back then. In the face of this disaster, and of the catastrophe that we have seen unfolding throughout the negotiations, the last resort is always to invoke the will of the people, but the simple fact is that, ever since that referendum was held, all the signs are that proceeding with this flawed Brexit is far from what this country wants.

After the 2016 vote, you would have thought that support for what had been voted for would have gone up, but almost every poll shows that support for it has fallen. Let us not forget that that referendum was held three years ago, when 37% of registered electors voted to leave. The most recent poll of the British people was held in 2017, when the Conservative hard Brexit was put to the British people and the party of Government lost its majority. If that were not the case, we would not be having this protracted process right now. Above all, I say to those who talk about the will of the people that democracy is not static; it is a dynamic thing. We in this country did not chose to have a system in which we have one general election and a one-party state and in which we never go back to the people for their view on things as our country and the world change and adapt.

The younger generations of this country have not been mentioned in the debate so far. I listened to the contribution of my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Vauxhall, and I say to her that the younger people in our borough, which is one of the youngest in the country, will never forgive this Parliament if it seeks to impose this disaster on them. More than 2 million young people have become entitled to vote since that 2016 poll, and we know that an overwhelming majority of them want a say on this process and that an overwhelming majority of them want to keep the current deal and the privileges that the older generations in this country have enjoyed for years.

If in the end we are faced with a cliff edge, with all the catastrophes that have been spelled out in Cabinet documents and knowing what it will mean for people’s jobs and livelihoods, and if we do not have a people’s vote, of course we must do as motion (L) proposes and revoke article 50. No one in this House has a mandate to destroy people’s jobs and livelihoods, but we know that a no-deal exit would do that because the Cabinet has produced its own briefing papers telling us that that is a fact. This is what is at stake here; this is what we have to think about when we make this decision. This is not about us so much as about future generations, and it is important that we do right by them.