European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 6) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:44 pm on 4th September 2019.

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Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough 4:44 pm, 4th September 2019

It is a pleasure to follow Caroline Flint, and I agree with virtually everything she says.

It is a pleasure to have listened to my right hon. Friends the Members for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) and for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames), with whom I have served in this House for 36 years. I know they do not want to stand again, but if they were to stand, I would want to stand with them shoulder to shoulder as a Conservative candidate.

There are procedures for dealing with this sort of issue, but I very much hope that those like my right hon. Friend Mr Hammond who voted for their conscience—I do not agree with him, but he did vote for his conscience—can find a way to stand again for our party. The trouble with purges is that if one group of people is purged, another group of people might have to be purged when we try to push a deal through Parliament, so I think we need compromise.

Indeed, that is the whole point of what I want to say today. I am a Brexiteer and my constituency voted 62:38 for Brexit, but I am in a bit of a minority here because I voted for the deal three times. We hear so much about how terrible a no deal is, but so many people in this place voted against the deal three times. We could have had Brexit by now. This whole thing could have been resolved, and I still want to resolve it. I still believe it is perfectly possible to make progress in these negotiations in the coming weeks.

So much ink has been wasted on the backstop, and there has been so much debate about something that will never happen. I do not believe, and I do not think anybody believes for a moment, that the backstop will ever happen. Nobody intends to impose a hard border, and there are so many ways to resolve this. We are this close to resolving the issue, and there has been so much talk about how we do not trust the Prime Minister and how he wants a no deal. I genuinely believe that he and the Cabinet want to achieve an orderly Brexit, but the problem they face is that the present deal simply cannot get through Parliament, so they have to make progress.

We had the Brady amendment, so we can win a vote in this place. I do not want to make a bore of myself by going on about devices such as the Vienna convention, which I have mentioned many times, but they are all possible. The trouble with this Bill is that if it is passed—I know this has been said many times, but it is an unanswerable point—there will be absolutely no incentive for the EU to make any progress, and therefore it drives a coach and horses through our negotiating tactics.

I end with an argument that might appeal to the Labour party. At the October 1957 Labour party conference, Aneurin Bevan said:

“if you carry this resolution”— the resolution was on unilateral disarmament—

“you will send a Foreign Secretary…naked into the conference chamber.”

That is what we will be doing if we pass this Bill, so let us compromise, let us draw together and let us get a deal.