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European Union (Withdrawal) Acts

Part of Prime Minister’s Statement – in the House of Commons at 1:53 pm on 19th October 2019.

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Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Chair, Committee on Exiting the European Union 1:53 pm, 19th October 2019

I will vote for the amendment moved by Sir Oliver Letwin because it is an insurance policy against no deal, by accident or by design. It is very clear from the debate so far that the deal that the Prime Minister has brought back will give us less good access to the biggest, nearest and most important market that we enjoy today and less good access than the deal negotiated by the former Prime Minister would have given. I cannot understand why anyone should regard that as something to be celebrated, cheered or recommended.

No wonder the Government do not want to do an economic assessment, because it would show the same thing as their last economic assessment. It was very striking how my right hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer told the House, in his typically forensic and eloquent way, what it would mean in practice to watch the euphoria evident on the Government Benches earlier give way to a cold realisation of what the deal will mean for the businesses and industries that we represent in our constituencies. I simply ask this: why would we want to undermine our future economy, investment, opportunity and potential in that way?

The second point I want to make is about consent. The Prime Minister is right to ask us how we will heal the rift that Brexit has created. If this deal is defeated, it will be the fourth time the House has been unable to agree a way forward. I am the first to admit that we cannot carry on like this. We need to find a way forward, and a way of doing so was offered, in a very prescient intervention a year ago, by my hon. Friends the Members for Hove (Peter Kyle) and for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson) with their compromise proposal—and it is a compromise. There is in politics a division between those who advocate leaving with no deal if we cannot get a deal and those who say, “Let’s just cancel the result of the referendum and pretend it never happened.” I do not subscribe to either of those views.

There is compromise: we can get this done and make a decision by asking the British people. At the heart of that question is this: do the British people have the right to change their minds? I fear that some who reject a referendum would cry, “No, they don’t. We had the one vote, and that’s it.” I disagree with that view because it is fundamental to our democracy that, when the facts change, events change or time passes, we should have an opportunity to change our minds if we wish. I do not know the answer to that question. The only people who know are the British people, which is why I will vote for my hon. Friends’ amendment. We should ask the people what they now want.