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Britain's Place in the World

Part of Speaker’s Statement – in the House of Commons at 6:14 pm on 15th October 2019.

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Photo of John Woodcock John Woodcock Independent, Barrow and Furness 6:14 pm, 15th October 2019

It was a pleasure to sit next to my right hon. Friend Liam Byrne as he spoke so compellingly on an issue that will be of great concern to many of his constituents and, I suspect, to many Labour party members in the wider Birmingham area.

This has been a debate of depressing ironies, probably not for the first time in history of the House of Commons. We are having a debate on Britain’s place in the world as part of the debate on the Humble Address, when all the measures in the Queen’s Speech and their potential impact on Britain’s place in the world are dwarfed by the decision that we are about to take on the manner of Britain’s exit from the European Union. Let me spend a moment on that, if I may, Madam Deputy Speaker, to implore my Opposition colleagues as we reach potentially the final hours of the process.

I reluctantly find myself in the position of seeking a confirmatory vote—a second referendum—despite there being, so far, I think, not a great change in the overall opinions of my constituents, who wanted to leave the European Union. I suspect a majority still do. I find myself in that position because every potential deal that came back, and certainly the deal that was agreed, represents a strategic downgrade of Britain’s place in the world. In effect, the deal sought to anchor the UK to European institutions over which it would no longer have any sovereignty. My view has changed from the one I held in 2016, when I wanted the softest Brexit possible. Having seen the potential long-term damage of the halfway house that was presented to the British people and to Members of Parliament, I feel that the best way out of this situation is through a confirmatory vote.

I say to my colleagues on the Opposition Benches that although there are few things that could do to greater long-term damage to Britain’s strategic importance on the global stage than a failing halfway-house Brexit, I am afraid that one of them would be to make the Leader of the Opposition the Prime Minister. At a stroke, within a few short weeks, he could unravel the alliances with our key allies that have been literally decades—sometimes centuries—in the making.

We have a range of views on the Opposition Benches. The Liberal Democrats come closest to saying, “This idea is not a goer,” but even they will not say, “Actually, this man is fundamentally unfit to hold the office of Prime Minister.” The Scottish National party says, “Bring it on,” because the worse the governance of the United Kingdom, the better for the SNP. Its Members think that would make the case for Scottish independence better, so they want to trash the United Kingdom.

In my former party we have a range of views—from the few, some of whom are on the Front Bench, who enthusiastically embrace the idea of the Leader of the Opposition becoming Prime Minister, to others who say sotto voce, “It’s okay, it will be all right. It will not happen; we will find a way to stop it.” Frankly, that is not good enough, given the scale of the damage it would do. I ask this of my friends who remain in the party: if they want people like me to continue to support a confirmatory vote on any deal, they have to do far more to show that the path to that vote does not run through making the Leader of the Opposition the Prime Minister and giving that regime the keys to Downing Street.

In the limited time I have left, I want to pick up on the really important theme that the SNP’s defence spokesperson, Stewart Malcolm McDonald, mentioned on the need for the UK to stand up and enhance its own security. I found myself agreeing with much of what he said, but he made the claim that, actually, many of the actions that the UK is seeking to take, and the positions that it is taking, would give succour to Putin and that despotic regime, which is determined to undermine the west. I have to say that, yes, that is true in Ukraine, but there is nothing, I think, that would give Putin more cheer than seeing us walk away from many of the alliances that are incredibly difficult for us to maintain if our friends act in ways that are inimical to our interests, but that would be catastrophic—