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Early Parliamentary General Election Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:07 pm on 29th October 2019.

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Photo of Ed Vaizey Ed Vaizey Independent, Wantage 5:07 pm, 29th October 2019

I have to say, Mr Speaker, that the minute you rose I realised the error I had made in speaking injudiciously and inaccurately. From now on, I will take a forensic approach. The point I was going to make was that I support the call for an election. It is quite right that we try to break the deadlock that exists in Parliament by having an election as soon as possible. I am also mindful—I have listened to every word you have said in this Chamber, Mr Speaker—that I am not going to speak about any of the amendments. All I will say is that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley raised important points and the amendments, if they are called, will also raise important points.

There are important debates to be had in this Chamber about the shape and form of elections. I am open to the idea, for example, of 16-year-olds voting. I am open to the idea of our European friends who live here and contribute their taxes voting. In particular, I take on board the point the hon. Lady made about money and lies. We know that in a digital age the propaganda pumped out on tech platforms will be a huge issue in this election and in future elections. When this House returns after the election, I hope that that will be one of the issues that is addressed.

Many hon. Members, including my hon. Friend Mrs Main, who made an excellent speech, have focused on the fact that people in the country are yearning for us to talk about something other than Brexit and about the issues that matter to them. I am extremely fortunate to represent the wonderful constituency of Wantage and Didcot, which contributes an enormous amount to the British economy. It is a centre for scientific research, space companies and life sciences, and it has a Formula 1 team, Williams Formula 1. Understandably, the constituency voted to remain because those companies rely on the expertise of a workforce who are spread throughout Europe and who are able to come to this country to work. It is clear, therefore, that when we have this election—and we must have it—Brexit and the issues that emerge from it will be an important factor in the debate.

It is also right that when we call this election—I am speaking in support of the Bill—people should have the chance to debate issues such as who provides the best stewardship of the economy, healthcare and education as well as the importance of culture and the creative industries in our society, a subject very close to my heart.

I echo what the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley said—I hope this is in order, Mr Speaker—about the tone of any forthcoming general election campaign. You will be pleased to know that the insight I am about to deliver represents the conclusion of my remarks. When you quite rightly ruled me out of order for saying that I was going to make a pro-remain speech when in fact I am making a pro-election speech, the point I wanted to make was that, with a little bit of Brexit inside me—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for St Albans has perked up. Obviously, I do not want to be part of a European superstate. I often say to my remain friends that if at any point the European Union told us, “You can stay in the European Union only if you join the single currency,” I would be the first to man the barricades and call for Brexit—even, dare I say it, a no-deal Brexit.

What was left behind after the referendum, and what I hope we get back if we call an election, is an understanding of the role of this incredible institution of Parliament. We know that the people voted to leave the European Union, but the paranoid hard-right Brexiteers decided that any version of Brexit apart from their own would somehow snatch away their hard-won victory. However, you know, Mr Speaker, that the role of this place, as the Chamber of a representative democracy, is to take that instruction and to interpret it as best we can.

My rebellious streak emerged when a hard-line Brexit was proposed—the proposal to leave the customs union and the single market while maintaining an open border in Ireland is an impossible circle to square—and there were attacks on our judges, who were called “enemies of the people” for interpreting the law; attacks on business, which pays taxes and employs people; attacks on our civil servants, who worked day and night to deliver the instructions of their political masters; and, dare I say it, Mr Speaker, attacks on you for allowing us in this Chamber to have our say on important matters. What really drove me mad was the attempt by some people in this House to own the result of the referendum and say, to echo the words of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley, “My way or the highway,” trashing in the process every single institution that they purported to be campaigning for when they campaigned for Brexit. That is utterly shameful. I hope they realise that everyone in this House has done their best to deliver on the referendum result.

It is not our fault that there was a hung Parliament. We can blame various people for the reason that we came back with a hung Parliament—[Interruption.] No, I blame the politicians. I blame the person who was leading our party at the last election when we could have come back with a majority, and this party can perhaps reflect on how long it took to react. Nobody knows how this election will turn out. I have simply taken a consistent position—as I have watched the carnage and the wreckage, and the ratcheting up of the rhetoric to “traitor” and “treason”—and said, “We should respect the referendum result, but we should leave with a deal.”

I do not know whether you and I will ever meet again in our respective positions, Mr Speaker. I simply want to say to you, as one man of average height—to echo my right hon. Friend Mr Francois—but of substantial girth: thank you for everything that you have done to stand up for the rights of this Chamber. Thank you as well to all my colleagues, who I look forward to seeing on the election beat, reasonably exchanging sensible and intelligent views on the best way forward—