European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:03 pm on 20th December 2019.

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Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union 2:03 pm, 20th December 2019

I join Keir Starmer in welcoming new Members to the House, and in reflecting the positive tone of the debate, which is in marked contrast with debates in the previous Parliament. I also join him in congratulating my hon. Friend Suella Braverman, a new mum returning to make her valued contribution to this House.

The general election delivered a clear instruction to this House that we should leave the European Union. Parliament must now reflect the will of the country and make good on that democratic decision by backing this Bill. The Bill is not a victory for one side over another. The time has come to discard the old labels, to move from the past divisions and to come together as one United Kingdom.

Our country produced a mandate to leave the EU in 2016, but the previous Parliament rejected it time and again. It has taken a second vote to ensure that the mandate to leave is finally honoured. It is clear that the people did know in 2016 what they were voting for after all. Despite the efforts of those determined not to accept the referendum result, the House now has the opportunity to end the delay and to forge a new relationship, both with our neighbours in Europe and, indeed, within this House. In reflecting that spirit, I very much welcomed the speech of Mrs Lewell-Buck, who said that she would support the Bill in the Lobby today.

Before I turn to the substance of the Bill, may I congratulate Claire Hanna on her very impressive maiden speech? She showed that she will contribute greatly to the work of the House, and her point about reconciliation was timely. Stephen Farry also made an excellent maiden speech, as indeed did Alyn Smith, who spoke powerfully of his opposition to Brexit, albeit after leaving an EU institution to come here. He has started his own Brexit as we vote on the Bill.

The Bill delivers certainty for our citizens living in Europe, and EU citizens living here in the UK, by guaranteeing their rights as set out in part 3, including through an independent monitoring authority, which will rightly hold the Government to account. There will be a grace period to ensure that nobody is left behind in registering for the EU settlement scheme. The Bill also protects frontier workers. It recognises professional qualifications and, indeed, provides for fair rights of appeal. That is because we value the contribution of EU citizens who have built their lives in our country, and the Bill will guarantee their right to continue to do so.