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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 6:05 pm on 1st April 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Martyn Day Martyn Day Scottish National Party, Linlithgow and East Falkirk 6:05 pm, 1st April 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe, in what has been an interesting, highly topical and well-attended debate, although I note that the leavers have now all left, after making a few interventions and, bizarrely, no speeches—something that I am sure that the public will have noticed.

I am very grateful to Catherine McKinnell for opening on behalf of the Petitions Committee, on which we both serve. I echo her thanks to the Committee staff and the digital staff for all their hard work in surviving the petition. The number of signatories and the interest shown have certainly improved our processes. Few people will not have heard about the Petitions Committee as a result of the viral “Revoke Article 50” petition, so the Committee may become a tad busier in future. I also pay tribute to the cross-party and cross-Parliament Scottish parliamentarians whose work has given us legal certainty on the ability to revoke article 50, without which the debate would almost be a moot point.

As of this morning, the “Revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU” petition has been signed by 10,156 of my constituents—a staggering number, although it seems almost paltry compared with some of the numbers that we have heard from other constituencies—the “Hold a second referendum on EU membership” petition has been signed by 229, and the “Parliament must honour the Referendum result. Leave deal or no deal” petition has been signed by 129. I am sure that all Members will have been inundated with emails about Brexit in general of late, and about the petitions and today’s debate in particular over recent days. The overwhelming majority of emails and messages that I have received are from people who wish to remain in the EU, and who would support revoking article 50 and/or going back to the people in a second referendum.

That is no surprise, given the volume of signatures on today’s petitions and the fact that 62% of Scotland voted remain, as did an estimated 58% of my constituents at the time, including me, I might add. I think it would be considerably higher if we had another vote today. During the 2016 referendum, and over the years since, I have seen nothing to shake my belief that staying in the EU is better than any of the possible alternative deals. Access to the EU single market and freedom of movement are vital both to protect jobs and to meet Scotland’s need for key workers in public services such as health and social care.

Much of the problem with the 2016 referendum was the result of its rather hasty nature. It was a relatively short campaign of a very vacuous nature. There were vague mantras and slogans on the side of a bus, the proposal was ill defined, and the reality is that, as other speakers have mentioned, Brexit means different things to different people; the number of emails that I have received from Brexiteers and leavers has proven that. As a consequence, agreement even among leavers is nigh-on impossible, as has been demonstrated through the parliamentary process and the impasse in this building to date.

People who voted to leave in 2016 did not vote to leave on 29 March or 12 April, as there was no date on the ballot. We need to pause and think seriously about the consequences of what we are about to do. I am reminded of the expression “act in haste, repent at leisure”. In this scenario, we may regret pressing on regardless with these arbitrary, self-imposed deadlines, and find ourselves unable to rectify mistakes after the event.

Quite a number of constituents have been saying that the debate should have taken place in the main Chamber. Although I agree with them, the reality is that the Committee does not have the ability to bring debates to the main Chamber—something that perhaps needs to change. Hopefully the powers that be in Parliament are listening to that. Today we are debating in Westminster Hall, while other crucial Brexit-related business takes place in the main Chamber: the latest round of indicative votes—a process that I look forward to taking part in later tonight. Unless a withdrawal agreement is approved by the Commons, the UK must decide within days whether to ask for a long delay to Brexit that would involve holding elections to the European Parliament. The only remaining alternatives would be to leave without an agreement or to revoke the formal article 50 exit procedure altogether.

Time is not with us. Today is 1 April, the EU Council will meet on 10 April and, unless something is agreed, we will leave without a deal on 12 April. Ultimately, this is a political choice. Crashing out of the EU with no deal need not be the default—it is not the only alternative to the PM’s deal. It is imperative that we choose to revoke article 50 and put the question back to the people, because we must ensure that the UK does not crash out without the express consent of our electorate.

As I have pointed out, Scotland did not vote for Brexit and we should not be dragged out of the EU against our will. Revoking article 50 would honour the wishes of the majority in Scotland. If this UK truly is a Union of equals and a family of nations, as Scots were promised during our referendum on independence, our different views must be respected. I implore the House to listen to them. If that is not possible, the UK is not fit for purpose and its days are numbered.