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European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:08 pm on 22nd October 2019.

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Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Conservative, Maldon 4:08 pm, 22nd October 2019

It is a pleasure to follow Jo Swinson, the leader of the Liberal Democrats. I give her and her party credit for consistency. No one has ever been in any doubt about where they stand on Europe. Unfortunately, that is not the case for the Labour party, whose leader, as my right hon. Friend Mr Duncan Smith has already pointed out, supported leaving the EU for a long time, fought an election on the wish to respect the result of the referendum and said consistently that a second referendum was out of the question.

Members will be aware that Kevin Brennan was forced to abandon his 60th birthday party as a result of the House sitting on a Saturday. The House may not be aware that he and I were born on precisely the same day and that, as a result of the programme motion, I have now postponed my own 60th birthday party. However—unlike, I suspect, the hon. Gentleman—I regard that as a small price to pay, and one that I am very willing to pay, if the result is that we get Brexit done.

Members have said that the Bill is being rushed through, and that there has not been time to look at it properly. I have been privileged to serve as a member of the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union since 2016, and we have spent an awful lot of time scrutinising the process by which the UK will leave the European Union. We looked at the withdrawal agreement as originally proposed by my right hon. Friend Mrs May, and, of course, we have taken numerous sessions of evidence for the purpose of further examination.

As was pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green, many parts of this withdrawal agreement are similar to what was presented by the previous Prime Minister. The major differences between the agreement that we are considering today and the previous one are the changes that have been made, first, to the Northern Ireland protocol, and secondly to the political declaration and the direction of travel for our future trading agreements.

Like the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, the Leader of the House and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green, I did not support the Government in the first two meaningful votes, but I did support them in the third, because I wanted us to fulfil the promise that had been made that we would leave the European Union by 29 March.