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It is absolutely right that most of us in the House voted to trigger article 50. We did so out of respect for the result of the referendum, even if we did not like it. Three and a half years down the track, however, it is perfectly obvious to many of us that this country is going towards a very bad outcome. The longer the period that passes since the referendum, the more unclear it is, in truth, what the will of the people is. We have no idea. While I have always been willing to see a deal go through, I want it to go back to the public, because I am left with a compelling sense that we are actually taking people to a destination that they do not want at all.
Unfortunately, a section of my party has become hijacked by a narrow sector of those who voted to leave, and who are simply using the will of the people as an instrument of potential tyranny against any of those who disagree with them. That is clear to me from the stream of emails that I routinely receive. I am afraid that it has now been fuelled by the words of the Prime Minister, and, indeed—I regret to have to say this, but I will—by the words of the Leader of the House today.
It was fascinating to listen to the Leader of the House. I had always imagined that he had marketed himself in politics as an individual who formed part of the grandest tradition of old-fashioned Conservatism, so I was rather surprised when I heard him say that one of his objections to why the House should do its duty was that it would interfere with the great set pieces that followed a state opening of Parliament. Of course, as a Conservative, I love the great set pieces of our constitution, but I do not think that, at a time of national emergency, my constituents in Beaconsfield would have much regard for me if I said that those great set pieces must come before my doing my duty.
I must also say to the Leader of the House, with regret—it was the first time that I had heard him speak at the Dispatch Box—that I regretted his rather cheap sarcasm at the expense of my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin. Let me gently point out that he has more months of experience of high office than my right hon. Friend has days in his job. The truth is that the Government have decided to pursue a ruthless policy of trying to shut down all debate—debate of the most legitimate kind about the future of our country and its wellbeing—and in doing so the unconstitutional acts come wholly from the Government. I disagree totally with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House when he says that in some way this House is acting unconstitutionally in what it does: our constitution is adaptable, and I am afraid it is having to adapt to the reality that the Government do not have a majority and have not had one for some time. And that is just one of those things that happens, and it is doing it, actually, in a fairly reasonable fashion, although it would be better if we listened politely to each other and stopped trying to beat each other over their head, as I detect is the practice the Government are now adopting.
Finally, I say this. Obviously I believe that this motion is entirely desirable and entirely in keeping with the House’s proper traditions, and is something that should be passed, and the Bill that follows it, so that the evils of a no-deal Brexit are avoided, because I believe passionately that evil will follow. But I was struck that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House suddenly referred to “A Man for All Seasons”, I think because Sir Thomas More is one of his heroes. He will recollect that Sir Thomas said, when told that opposition to the King would mean death, “Well, these are but devices to frighten children.” So I am afraid that if he thinks the device of withdrawing the Whip this evening is going to change my mind or that of my hon. and right hon. Friends, he has got another thing coming, because it will be treated with the contempt it deserves.