Early parliamentary general election

Part of Early Parliamentary General Election Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:00 pm on 29th October 2019.

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Photo of Tommy Sheppard Tommy Sheppard Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Scotland), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (House of Lords) 6:00 pm, 29th October 2019

I want to make some comments generally on the Bill as a whole and then to discuss the individual amendments that have been selected.

I must start by saying that, clearly, it is not ideal for anyone to have an election a couple of weeks before Christmas: the nights are fair drawing in, it will be cold and dark, and many of the people in this country will, quite understandably, be looking forward to Christmas and spending time with their family and relatives. So it is hardly an ideal time, but from our perspective in the SNP, we think that this is a necessary requirement now, because we have reached a situation of impasse in this Parliament where it is incapable of resolving probably the biggest political issue that has divided the United Kingdom in my lifetime. There are competing views as to what the end point of the Brexit process should be, and parliamentary democracy in this country, it seems to me, has now reached a point of stasis where it is incapable of adjudicating between those outcomes. It is therefore right and proper that we should go back to the electorate and allow them to reflect on what can happen.

This will very much be the Brexit election. I am pleased that we have moved the Government from their position a few weeks ago, when they did not actually want a Brexit election in which the people would be allowed to cast their views about different outcomes. They wanted to get Brexit done and go to the electorate afterwards. That would have been a travesty because it would have said to the people, “We’re going to have a general election. Brexit will be one of the big topics of conversation, but there is really no point in you expressing a view, because we’re going to conclude the matter before the first ballot is cast.” That would have been a ridiculous and anti-democratic situation. I am glad that we have moved the Prime Minister and the Government away from that approach, even if it does mean that the Prime Minister might be looking for a ditch on Thursday.

Many people have lamented the fact that Parliament has not resolved this matter, three and a half years on. In my view, that is simply because it is without any reasonable resolution. The promise of Brexit has turned out to be a lie. In 2016, people were told that they could vote to leave the European Union and would be better off as a result. That is not true, and hardly anyone in this Chamber would now argue that it was. In fact, it is a matter of how bad the different Brexit options are. That is why, quite understandably, there is now a large body of opinion in this country for whom the conclusion of this process should be to say, “That’s it. It has gone far enough. Stop it now; we want to get off.” An election will allow that view to come to the fore.

The election will also allow the Prime Minister to put his deal before the electorate. And hon. Members should be under no illusions—the Prime Minister has taken an extremely flawed deal by his predecessor and made it immeasurably worse. This series of proposals that the Prime Minister has agreed with the European Union will impoverish people in this country, very much remove the standing of the United Kingdom in the eyes of the world and leave it a much worse place. I do not want that for the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and I certainly do not want that outcome for the people of Scotland. That is why it is right and proper that the Prime Minister should put his case before the electorate. I look forward to him being challenged—not just by Opposition parties, but by Nigel Farage so that we can see whether the deal he has come up with satisfies the real hard-right Brexiteers, for whom nothing will sate their appetite.

As many people have remarked, the situation in Scotland is quite different; 62% of the people of Scotland did not vote for this mess. Had teenage voters and most people in Scotland born elsewhere in the European Union been allowed to take part in that decision, the figure would have been far higher still, as it would if the question were asked again today. It is my responsibility to represent the people who elected me.