European Union (Withdrawal)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:11 pm on 3rd September 2019.

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Photo of Antoinette Sandbach Antoinette Sandbach Conservative, Eddisbury 9:11 pm, 3rd September 2019

This Parliament is at the very heart of our national story and our shared history, and it is what the Prime Minister’s great idol, Winston Churchill, called the “cockpit of the nation.” To seek to bar the door to that cockpit as the nation flies into one of the biggest constitutional storms in its history is an unsettling thing for a Government to do. It may not be illegal or unconstitutional, but it is not how a strong, responsible Government would conduct themselves.

Europhobic conspiracy theorists occasionally claim that the EU wants to reduce the House of Commons to a mere council chamber. I am afraid that if the Government achieve their aims this week, they will have gone further and reduced us from a proud sovereign Parliament to a mere debating club to be dismissed when it becomes inconvenient.

If the Government succeed this week, what is to stop the Prime Minister doing it again in the future? What is to stop the Leader of the Opposition, should he come to power, and I hope that never comes to pass? Precedent matters, and so does motive. The Government’s claim that Prorogation is to enable them to put forward new domestic legislation is clearly nonsense—a fig leaf to hide their attempt to evade accountability.

This House has stood as the defender of our liberties for centuries. The historian Robert Saunders put it best:

“the UK government shines with borrowed light: a light that comes *solely* from the consent of our elected representatives. Shut that down, and our democracy is plunged into darkness.”

It has indeed been plunged into darkness. We are in darkness.

It is claimed that this Prorogation is a normal Prorogation, but it is not. This Parliament would have expected the Leader of the House to table a recess motion, which would have asked us to agree to the party conference recess. That motion has never been put to us. As Members of Parliament, we have never been asked to agree to the recess, and it is highly likely that we would not have done so given the scale of the crisis that faces our country.

The Leader of the House claims to speak for 17.4 million people. Well, I want to tell him about a constituent of mine. I was on the train, going back to my constituency, when a constituent approached me and said, “You’re my MP. I voted for leave, because I wanted to give David Cameron a kicking. I did not really think it would go through. Please, now, do something to change that.”

I have voted three times for the withdrawal agreement. Three times I have seen Members from my party vote that agreement down, even though their Conservative Prime Minister told them that it complied with our manifesto commitment to an orderly exit. A constituent has written to me this evening to say, “The Leader of the House has rebelled against a Conservative-led Government more than 100 times and he has been rewarded with a place on the Front Bench.” Yet my right hon. Friend Mr Gauke, who has never voted against the Government, is going to be expelled from the party. What times we live in. I will be voting for this motion.