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Britain's Place in the World

Part of Speaker’s Statement – in the House of Commons at 4:09 pm on 15th October 2019.

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Photo of Steve Brine Steve Brine Independent, Winchester 4:09 pm, 15th October 2019

I take that as no answer on the pound.

I warmly welcome yesterday’s Queen’s Speech and the fact that we have at least opened a new Session of Parliament. We have 26 Bills to be getting on with and all the more immediate Brexit endgame stuff to play out. I will not labour them all, but I want to touch on a few, not least as a former Health Minister. I welcome plans for an independent NHS investigations body—the health service safety investigations body, or HSSIB, which was talked about when I was in the Department—to look into serious healthcare incidents. There are other measures relating to adult social care and medicines policy. As a former Minister with responsibility for medicines, I look forward to scrutinising that policy.

I very much welcome the ambitious new policies on criminal justice. It was good to hear the Prime Minister yesterday talk about the rehabilitation of offenders during his remarks in the House. Far from the environment being an afterthought in the Queen’s Speech—I did not see it that way at all—I am delighted to see a new Environment Bill that promises to set legally binding targets to reduce plastics, cut air pollution, restore biodiversity and improve water quality. As promised, the animal welfare Bill to outlaw the proceeds of trophy hunting will be very welcome. I only wish we could outlaw the actual act as it happens in other countries, which shows a darkness in the heart of man that we should leave firmly in the past. These are good measures on the environment. My “Green Winchester” campaign, which I have run since before I was elected, will look forward to getting stuck in to all that. I know there will be a lot of interest from my constituents.

I want to touch on three points. First, I have spoken about Brexit and citizens’ rights in this Chamber many times since the referendum. In my opinion, Britain cannot have any secure place in the world if it is not a secure place that welcomes citizens from anywhere in the world. It is, of course, good news that the Queen’s Speech contains the immigration Bill. It will make clear that resident European citizens in this country and in my Winchester constituency, who have built their lives in and contributed so much to the UK, have the right to remain.

Indeed, I note that the Gracious Speech said that the Bill will include measures that “reinforce this commitment”, which is excellent. When the Minister responds to today’s debate, I would like to hear a little bit more about that. I am quite clear—many of my constituents will share this wish—that this is not something that we should be getting around to in late 2019 or early 2020. The previous Government—the Prime Minister said this at the time—should have legislated right away to end the uncertainty that our EU friends and neighbours living here have felt since June 2016. Many of my constituents have contacted me to express that view.

Secondly, Britain is known for many things around the world and it is rightly looked up to. As a Health Minister, I was fortunate to represent our country at G7 and G20 meetings. The experience of travelling wearing that NHS badge was that so many countries are envious, and rightly so, of our NHS. We are probably its harshest critics here domestically. Perhaps that is how it should be, but when we talk around the world about our primary care, GP and cancer services, our screening programmes —we are the first country in the world to implement the faecal immunochemical test, or FIT, bowel cancer screening programme—and the immunisation programme we have in our country, we should remember that there are many things for which Britain is rightly looked up to.

Sure, the 2016 referendum was unusual for us as a country. We do not need to rehearse all the arguments about how a parliamentary democracy such as ours has struggled to reconcile an exercise in direct democracy, but I really do believe that we should not overthink how others view us and how this episode has had an impact on our place in the world. It has been said many times and it is worth repeating: this House actually represents our country very well right now, divided as it is. We will see again on Saturday how divided our society is outside this building.

Ours is a working democracy and centuries of precedent and tradition, in my view, do not go bad in the space of three—although very long—years. I do not share the view, therefore, that we need to tear this House down, find our founding fathers and write a constitution—not yet anyway. Surely, the challenge of our current impasse has far more straightforward origins. As any student of politics learns in their first module about the House of Commons, this place works, and the Prime Minister’s power derives from, having a majority in this place. Whether I or we like it, there will have to be a general election sooner or later. Whether that produces a result of any clarity is another matter.

Finally, turning back to Brexit, we have to be honest and say that Brexit presents challenges and opportunities for Britain’s place in the world, but I suspect that how depends entirely on how this ends. I voted remain in 2016. I came to that conclusion because of the way I see our country: as part of something greater than even Great Britain. I am young and generally internationalist in my outlook. I have no issue with freedom of movement. As a Health Minister, I saw every day how our NHS needs the supply of labour.

I am not hung up on ceding an element of sovereignty to be a member state of the European Union. We do that as a member of other multinational organisations, including NATO, which, after all, has article 5 as the cornerstone of its foundation, stating that an attack on one is an attack on all. While I realise that this is anathema to some in our country and perhaps even in this House, when I see the British Prime Minister sitting around an EU summit table flanked by the big nations of Europe—being a big nation of Europe ourselves— I feel pride, not regret.

However, our country made a choice that we asked it to make. I may regret the result of the 2016 EU referendum, but I respect it and we must carry it through, and we will make it work. I realise that opponents of moderates have the luxury of taking a position from either of the spectrum. We have the Brexit party with its “Get Brexit Done”, saying that a clean break would just allow us to move on and put Brexit behind us. That is plain wrong. It would resolve nothing and is a recipe only for much further uncertainty. Equally, the Liberal party’s view—sadly, its Members are not in the Chamber; what a surprise—is that we can just revoke article 50 and pretend, like Bobby Ewing coming out of the shower in “Dallas”, that it never happened, but as one constituent put it to me last weekend, that is just not cricket. We have to move forward from where we are in life and not from where we wish to be.

My view is that Britain’s place in the world is strong, and I think that it will remain so. It is changing, that is for sure, but I suspect that when my children are my age—perhaps standing in this House one day—this current time will just be one part of the story that is this ongoing, successful United Kingdom.