European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:30 pm on 20th December 2019.

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Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Conservative, South Holland and The Deepings 12:30 pm, 20th December 2019

Welcome to the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker. I have no doubt that it is going to be a delight to serve under your enlightened chairmanship for many years.

Listening to this debate, I drew a contrast between the contribution of my right hon. Friend Damian Green and that of Hilary Benn, who both campaigned for remain in the 2016 referendum. One has accepted the result but the other remains in denial. The debate in this House before the election was characterised by that contrast between the acceptance of the democratic will of the people and the perpetual denial of those who campaigned for remain but who cannot come to terms with the result.

The election result finally settles the matter. The Prime Minister, at some risk to himself and, indeed, to many of us, put his reputation on the line by saying to the British people, “Do you or don’t you trust me to deliver this?” The British people have delivered their verdict. They want us to deliver Brexit, not necessarily because they wanted to leave in the first place, but simply because they want the matter settled. They want to deliver the certainty that is critical for British business and for the integrity of our democracy. To have continued to frustrate the will of the people would have done untold harm to the very spirit that should imbue this place and that gives life and health to democratic legitimacy. That is why, beyond all else, I will vote for the Bill today.

But that is not the only reason. I have opposed the European Union consistently throughout my political career—indeed, stretching back into my boyhood, which was something like 40 years ago. I know it seems surprising and unlikely, but it was 40 years ago that I was a boy. I first advocated withdrawal from the European Union when I was a student at Nottingham University back in the late 1970s.

I did so because the European Union is regulatory. I remember countless occasions when civil servants would come to me and say, “It’s bad news from Europe, Minister. We’re looking at ways we can get around it, dilute it, avoid it.” I would say, “Well, do all you can,” as I did in respect of the ports directive referred to by my hon. Friend Sir William Cash. Yet I can never remember them saying, “Great news from Europe, Minister. This is going to be really beneficial for the British people.” The regulatory burden that has emanated from the European Union has been immensely unhelpful to Britain and the British economy, time after time.

I also oppose the European Union because it is costly. The latest House of Commons Library figures suggest that the net cost of our membership of this very expensive club is £8.9 billion. Indeed, we have been net contributors in every year since we joined in 1973 except, interestingly enough, 1975.