European Union (Withdrawal)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:28 pm on 3rd September 2019.

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Photo of Helen Jones Helen Jones Chair, Petitions Committee 8:28 pm, 3rd September 2019

I rise to support the motion not only on behalf of the 1.7 million people who have signed a petition on our website against a Prorogation of Parliament until we have made decisions on Europe, but as someone who is profoundly disturbed by the contempt for parliamentary democracy that the Prime Minister has shown in seeking a five-week Prorogation of Parliament. It is profoundly dangerous to our democracy because, as we all know, democracy never disappears with a bang: it disappears by small, incremental steps, each one justified by saying, “Things need to be sorted out, things need to be done, and people are blocking the way.” I say that as someone who believes that we should implement the decision of the referendum, but in a representative democracy it is for Parliament to decide how that decision should be implemented.

We are struggling to reconcile a plebiscite with a representative democracy. That struggle has not been made any easier by the misleading statements made during the referendum—that we would get the easiest trade deal ever, and so on. Brexit cannot be accomplished, as the Prime Minister seeks to tell us, by a few slogans from a self-help book and a rousing chorus of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”. It is complicated, and Parliament has to deal with those complications.

I have no doubt that the Prime Minister sees himself as a democrat. I am told that he keeps a bust of Pericles in Downing Street. I do not know whether he chose Pericles because his foreign policy alienated most of the other Greek states or because he prorogued the Athenian assembly, but although the Prime Minister sees himself as a democrat he speaks like a demagogue. He has called parliamentarians “collaborators” with Europe in seeking to block no deal: he uses the language of a war. There are far too many people here trying to relive a war that they were not only too young to take part in but too young even to remember. That demeans the sacrifices of those who fought in that war.

Our job is to take the difficult decisions, and one of the things that we must do is to block a no-deal Brexit, which would be disastrous for this country and for most of our constituents. It would damage not just this generation but generations to come. Where are all the members of the Cabinet who told us that Prorogation would be an affront to parliamentary democracy, mad or a ridiculous suggestion? They are silent as the grave. If Cabinet Government no longer exists, and it seems not to, it is for Parliament to ensure that the Government are properly scrutinised.

I know that it will be difficult for many on the Government Benches tonight. They have been threatened with the loss of the Whip and of their jobs. Many will have to break the bonds of loyalty to their own party, which we all have, but I beg them tonight to act not in their own interests or those of their party, but in those of the country. They should remember what Clem Attlee once said:

“If you begin to consider yourself solely responsible to a political party, you’re half-way to a dictatorship.”

The country expects us tonight to act in the national interest, and it is vital that we do so.