Eu: Withdrawal and Future Relationship (Motions)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:02 pm on 27th March 2019.

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Photo of Paul Farrelly Paul Farrelly Labour, Newcastle-under-Lyme 6:02 pm, 27th March 2019

I did not vote for the legislation for the EU referendum, or to trigger article 50 regardless of the consequences, which are now all too plain to see. I made my views clear during the 2017 election and, despite most people’s expectations, I was re-elected. So throughout this, I have been consistent and honest, as has Mr Clarke. The last vote on the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement was, sadly, the first time that he and I were in a different Lobby. That was not because we do not believe that leaving the European Union is a terrible mistake for our country, but because the Prime Minister has so successfully ticked the clock down that he was just being pragmatic: pass her agreement, then live and fight for the future another day. I respect that decision.

Today, I will also be pragmatic because otherwise this intransigent, deeply flawed Prime Minister may well get a no-deal way, just so that she can wag her finger at the rest of us and say, “I told you so.” Today, we also owe it to the three Ministers, who honourably resigned this week to help to give us this opportunity, to come to a clear decision. We also owe it to the right hon. and hon. Members who have done such sterling work in the national, not personal, interest. Mr Grieve has been truly outstanding, as has the irrepressible right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry).

In my local area of north Staffordshire, I now seem to be a lone island of remain in a shifting sea of leave among Members of this House. I certainly dread the thought of a second referendum. Powerful, loud and deep-pocketed voices would try to drown out debate with cries of “Betrayal,” but we have to be brave. In the interests of our country, we should not shy away from giving the people, including young citizens who are 16, a final say on their future. If the House gives a firm steer today, the Government should not only listen but put the matter to a people’s vote, with an option to remain. Should they do so, I will campaign, as we did in Newcastle-under-Lyme in 2016, for a remain result. I will campaign to remain and reform, if necessary, from within—to remain and heed the lessons of history, to keep our place alongside onetime foes who have been for the past 75 years our partners in peace and prosperity on an often-troubled small continent, in a rapidly changing world.

In 2016, we in Newcastle-under-Lyme fought the referendum campaign as hard as any general election campaign. Sadly, that fight was not evident in all parts of our country. It is true that in Newcastle-under-Lyme people voted by 60% to 40% to leave, but they did not vote for what happens next. In next-door Stoke, the vote was 70% to 30%. That difference shows that, if we make the argument, we can make the difference, particularly when the national result was so narrow, at 52% to 48%. What was missing on the ground in that referendum was the engagement of the Conservative party. Having introduced the referendum, the party of government took no position, in the interests of the party itself, not of our country. The Prime Minister has behaved in the same way ever since, but she gained no majority from her approach in the general election, and she now has no majority in the House for her so-called deal. She stumbles on and on; she is truly the stumbling block.

When we vote later, I hope we will vote to revoke article 50, or to give us the leeway to do so. I urge colleagues not to abstain on motion (L). If we do not vote to revoke, I hope we vote for something pragmatic and for a future that keeps us close to our partners in Europe. When we vote, I will pay great heed to the lead that has been given by true statespeople, such as the right hon. and learned Members for Rushcliffe and for Beaconsfield, Sir Oliver Letwin, Nick Boles, my right hon. Friends the Members for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) and for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), my right hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer, and many others. I hope the Prime Minister will pay heed to them as well. It was simply wrong for her to do what she did last week in that extraordinary broadcast to the country and do down our Parliament when it is full of really good people who are a real credit to our democracy.