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It is a pleasure to follow Andrew Selous, although I find it a little strange that he criticises the House for not working on a cross-party basis—that is why we are here tonight and that is why so many of the parties in the House of Commons will oppose the Government’s motion. I think that he means that he wants cross-party working so long as the parties work with him, rather than between themselves.
In my time in this House, I have seen seven Prime Ministers come and go. We are now on the eighth. I had enormous differences with many of them, but in every case up until now, I have always accepted that they acted in good faith and what they perceived to be the national interest.
Before I go any further, I should point out that what I am about to say breaks two rules that I have set myself during my time in the House. The first is to try to play the ball, rather than the man or woman, and the second is never to take issue with the Chair. I am not about to break the second one, Mr Speaker, but I will comment on it. All the Speakers I have served under—I think that you are the fourth—have always upheld the rights and privileges of Members of this House, which you have done, and they have always upheld the constitution of our country and the rules of this House, and they have all done it in their own distinctive way. I want to pay tribute to the way you have conducted yourself. You have stood up for the rights of this House and—often in the face of criticism, usually from Government Members—you have shown great courage in carrying out your responsibilities, and I pay tribute to you.
The other rule, which I am about to break, brings me to Boris Johnson. He is, as everybody would agree, often entertaining. He does, as I know from some experience with him, have an enormous amount of stamina. However, political leaders need to have three additional qualities: first, it is essential that they exercise good judgment; secondly, they need to be trusted to follow a course of action that they genuinely believe is in the best interests of our country, even in circumstances when it might not be universally popular to do so; and thirdly—I find this the most troubling part of the Prime Minister’s speech tonight—they need to be absolutely clear that on no occasion would they contemplate breaking the law of the land. As, sadly, has been demonstrated in his short time as Prime Minister, the right hon. Gentleman has shown neither good judgment or any sense that he is willing to put what is best for our country ahead of his own personal ambition.
In normal times, the logic of the case I have just made would be that I supported the motion before us, but these are not normal times. The Prime Minister cannot be trusted to use the vacuum created by a general election to thwart the will of this House. If he is serious about coming up with a deal that will suit all the concerns we have, why are we in this House at this time of night debating whether to hold a general election? Why is he not in Brussels trying to get a deal? Why is he not putting the interests of this country above his own political ambitions?
Let me be as clear as I can. I desperately want a general election because the people of Knowsley deserve better than this squalid, mean and incompetent Government, but to shut down Parliament for a general election at this critical point in our history would require us to trust that the Prime Minister would behave honourably. I cannot take that on trust. I will conclude with some words with which the House will be familiar. Those words are:
“Cometh the hour, cometh the man.”
Well, the hour has come, but certainly not the man.