Leaving the European Union — [David Hanson in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:59 pm on 4th February 2019.

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Photo of Anne Main Anne Main Conservative, St Albans 4:59 pm, 4th February 2019

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. At the time, I was very worried about whether there was some undue influence, whether we should have purdah and other things that were taxing our brains at that point. The European Union was advocated for by the leader of the Government at the time; a lot of big names tried to make the case for it, and a lot of money was associated with that. Even so, the British public had 40 years of knowing what they had, and they did not like it. People want to call them stupid or deluded—those are some of the things thrown at my constituents who voted to leave—but they were prepared to take the opportunity to leave.

There was a split decision, but did anyone ever think it would be more decisive than it was? It struck me how many people participated in the referendum—it was overwhelming. When I was out knocking on doors, people told me they had not voted for many a year, but they were going to vote. The referendum galvanised and engaged people in a way that we often struggle to. If we do not get on with this, the public will ask, “What is the point of taking part in any votes whatever? We got ourselves out the door for that special occasion; we were motivated.”

I do not know what motivated some people; they may have had different motivations, but they still wanted to leave the club. That is why they got out the door that morning in vast numbers and went to vote. This petition reflects a frustration; people think that we are cloth-eared in here and did not wake up to the sheer number of people who decided they had to vote to leave. This was a topic that had engaged them, if nothing else, for decades. No party, leaflets or knocking at their door had got them out, but this did. The former Prime Minister would not like to hear that some people did not bother to read his leaflet, but some people felt they had enough personal experience to make up their mind; the leaflet was not going to change that. They were glad of the opportunity of the vote.

I do not believe the European Union will want a “kick the can down the road” delay to article 50. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam: if it were for a few weeks, that might well be tolerated, so long as it was just to dot the i’s and cross the t’s. In that respect, I disagree with the petition, but I have sympathy for where it is going.

I could not vote for the withdrawal agreement, and 240 people felt the same way. When I went to see the Prime Minister after the big defeat, I said, “Will I want to pay £39 billion? No; it will stick in my craw, but it is a one-off. Do I want the European Court of Justice to have jurisdiction over us during the implementation period? No, but I can stand it. Can I lock us into a backstop? No.” I have gone through the debates, arguments and thought processes; that has to be fixed.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam: Brussels said that it will not tell us what we want to hear, but I believe and hope that it will listen, now that things have been distilled down. I do not wish to be the teenager trashing the flat, as someone said; I wish us to have a good relationship. I do not want us to be rancorous. I hope the people who have signed this petition will accept that we have not ignored the fact that 17.4 million people, many of whom said they had not voted for a very long time, got out the door that day because this was the one thing they wanted delivered. It is up to us to deliver it.