European Union (Withdrawal)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:37 pm on 3rd September 2019.

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Photo of Nicholas Boles Nicholas Boles Independent, Grantham and Stamford 8:37 pm, 3rd September 2019

I rise to support the motion in the name of my friend, Sir Oliver Letwin.

On the morning of 7 February 2017, I woke up in an isolation room at King’s College Hospital, where I was receiving chemotherapy. My blood counts were rock bottom and the chances of an infection high. Weak as a kitten, I got dressed. My friend and parliamentary neighbour the Brexit Secretary, who was then a Government Whip, met me at the entrance to the ward with a hospital porter and a wheelchair. He took me out to the Chief Whip’s car and we were driven to Parliament so that I could vote for the article 50 Bill.

Since that moment, I have done everything in my power to deliver Brexit with a deal that protects jobs and livelihoods, and preserves our national unity and our international standing. I voted for the former Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement on three separate occasions, while the current Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary and Leader of the House were all breaking the Conservative Whip and voting with the Leader of the Opposition. I worked with colleagues across the House to promote an alternative Brexit deal, common market 2.0, and secured the support of Labour, the SNP and Plaid Cymru for a plan that would have taken us out of the European Union’s political arrangements, but kept us in the single market. I am ready to vote for a revised withdrawal agreement if the Prime Minister can secure changes through a negotiation with the EU. Like many hon. Members from the Labour Benches and elsewhere in this House, I still believe that we need to deliver what a majority of my constituents and of the British people voted for in the referendum of 2016.

What I will not do is allow a no-deal Brexit. It would devastate sheep farmers in my constituency. It would be a hammer blow for automotive businesses in my constituency and across the country. It would put our Union with Scotland and Northern Ireland in jeopardy, and it would be the single most protectionist step taken by any democratic country since the great depression, raising tariffs and trade barriers between us and our largest market.

Taking this stand cost me the support of my local party and in April led me to leave the Conservative party, but I have no regrets. I can look people in the eye, knowing that I have done what I believe to be right and put the interests of the country before my own comfort or career. How many members of the Cabinet can say the same?

At the moment, I am the only independent progressive Conservative in Parliament. To those brave souls on the Conservative Benches who face expulsion from the party for voting for the motion today, I say this: your country needs you. Do what you know to be right. Join me on these Benches and together let us build a new force in British politics, and a true home in Parliament for those who believe in one nation.