Leaving the European Union — [James Gray in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:33 pm on 1st April 2019.

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Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Independent, Nottingham East 5:33 pm, 1st April 2019

The petition that I particularly wish to address is that signed by over 6 million members of the public, calling on the Government and Members of Parliament to be prepared to revoke article 50 in the face of a Brexit catastrophe and support remaining in the European Union. Over 8.6% of my constituents—some 9,500 people in my constituency—have signed that petition. In December, I and other Members whose constituencies will come back to me—I could name them, but I am trying to think of their constituencies —took a case to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. We took a risk and prosecuted the case that, as the United Kingdom, we had the unilateral right to rescind the notification of article 50 if we needed to do so. We took that case despite many people saying that we should not do it, that it was impossible, or that the decision to trigger article 50 was a one-way street.

We expected that once the mythology of Brexit—the unicorns—was held up to the light, and once Members of Parliament and other people looked at this question, we would find ourselves in the situation that we are in this week. We predicted that the concept of a jobs-first Brexit, or a Brexit that promised all of those wonderful things that were on the side of the big red bus, was a mirage that would prove impossible to deliver. There was a notion that Britain could pull up the drawbridge and everything would be fine: that we did not need to worry about our European alliances, or care particularly about the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, because these things could all be ironed out and it would be sorted out. We now know that is not the case.

Many of my constituents, and many hon. Members present, have looked at some of the options that we are debating in the other Chamber today: a customs union, the Norway option, the Canada option, or a supposed managed no deal. They have looked at the evidence, as they should, and have concluded that every single form of Brexit will make our constituents worse off. Therefore, how can I in good conscience say to my constituents, “That’s fine—no problem at all”, especially as they voted for remain? How can I possibly allow that situation to continue without giving them, at the very least, the right to sign it off through a form of final consent? They should have the final say.

I found myself finally having to leave the Labour party because I could no longer continue with the charade that somehow the Labour party was going to eventually get to the position of offering the public a vote. That option has remained on the ballot paper; it looks as though there has been some movement, and many good Labour MPs have been trying their best to get their Front-Bench team to support it. However, that was one of the reasons why I could no longer stay in the Labour party and had to join the Independent Group. Our view is that the public, if they so choose, should have the right to instruct their Government to revoke the article 50 notice and support remaining in the European Union. We are in a difficult set of circumstances, but if we want to truncate them and bring this situation to a conclusion sooner, a referendum is the best way to do so, rather than entering into four, five, six or seven years of long negotiations about our future relationship with the European Union.