Eu: Withdrawal and Future Relationship (Motions)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:52 pm on 1st April 2019.

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Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield 6:52 pm, 1st April 2019

Yes, Attlee. He is almost canonised, but anyone who wants to know about the confusion on Europe in the Labour party should read about Clement Attlee. He wanted to reject Europe and continue expanding trade with the colonies. The divisions on Europe in the Labour party were deep, mirroring in part what has happened more recently in the Conservative party. It was Harold Wilson, who came from Huddersfield but was never Member of Parliament for the town, who called the first referendum because of the deep division between left and right in the party, especially with Tony Benn. The result was the innovation, which I much regret, of referendums under our constitution.

I will support all four of the motions this evening, because this is the beginning of a process. We are in a bitter and toxic period. In my nearly 40 years in Parliament, I have never seen such nastiness in the streets, on social media and in the way we treat each other in the House, referring to each other as traitors. I hope tonight we can start the process, by voting for some of these positive motions. Of course, in the end I want to stay in the European Union, but I am willing to meet people halfway and to build bridges.

All the time I have the national interest at the back of my mind. Someone asked me at the weekend, “What is the national interest? The Prime Minister keeps talking about it. The Conservative Prime Minister who first got us into this mess has disappeared and now another one is going to disappear.” The national interest is for this House to come together and replace the vacuum we have had from the present leadership in the major political parties. I say that reluctantly, but it is true. It is time we had that leadership, but until we get it again, the House must pick up the baton and run with it. I hope that tonight will start that process.