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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 6:10 pm on 1st April 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Catherine West Catherine West Labour, Hornsey and Wood Green 6:10 pm, 1st April 2019

My hon. Friend is correct. Even though a very small percentage of my constituents voted to leave the EU, I have tried to engage with them and talk about what happened in the election and why they felt like that. That is the spirit that we need to move towards as a Parliament, but it is difficult to do that when hon. Members leave the Chamber.

On the Saturday after 23 June 2016, I hired a small room in the old Hornsey town hall for any EU nationals who wanted to discuss their worries with me. When I opened the door, it was biblical: 500 people had come. They were not all connected to the EU in a personal way; for some, it was just a general feeling. That is the sort of constituency I have, but I still want to engage with those who hold the opposite argument, who may feel just as passionately even though there are fewer of them. I hope that this debate will take place in a spirit of co-operation and of listening to one another.

When 1 million people took to the streets of London on 23 March, it was quite an amazing day. Only last Monday, MPs voted to take control of the Order Paper in response to a Government who have failed to deliver a deal that protects the interests of the British people. Yesterday, the petition that we are debating surpassed 6 million signatures—as it is 1 April, Mr McCabe, you may be amused to hear that this morning my other half came into the room and said, “It’s at 9 million!” I leapt out of bed and he said, “April fool.” At least we can try to maintain a sense of humour in these difficult days.

We know that the Prime Minister intends to make a fourth attempt at bringing her deal back—possibly on Wednesday, although the Minister may enlighten us further—and tonight MPs will take part in a second round of indicative votes. It seems completely nonsensical that the people should be prohibited from speaking again at this moment of intense crisis.

Nearly three years have passed since the narrow result, and we understand from commentators that with every passing week a further £600 million is wiped off the national economy. How can something like new computer systems for our ports—to give one example from my time on the International Trade Committee—be more important than providing free dental care for children in our most deprived areas, free university education for our students or the crucial funds that our local authorities need to fight knife crime? There are so many things that £600 million per week could be used for—it is enough to make one weep.

Each hour, £171,000 is spent on preparing for a no-deal Brexit, which we know would have a devastating effect on the economy and inflict disproportionate harm on deprived communities. To put it into context, that money could be spent on recruiting 85,000 nurses, 50,000 teachers or 49,000 police officers—a move that would begin to repair the damage done by eight-and-a-half years of austerity.

On 14 March, the Commons voted to extend article 50—an important step to ensure that the UK did not crash out of the EU last Friday. That action was necessary, but it is not a long-term solution. There are now 271 hours left of the short extension to article 50, so we must ensure that we have an insurance policy to protect the UK from a catastrophic no-deal scenario. As other hon. Members have said, that insurance policy is the revocation of article 50.

I was proud to support the amendment tabled by Angus Brendan MacNeil, not least because he chairs the International Trade Committee, on which I sat until recently—I am sure that hon. Members will correct my faulty Gaelic pronunciation of his constituency. Many hon. Members present will be giving a lot of thought to a similar motion on the Order Paper this evening, which was tabled by Joanna Cherry and has the same aim. If we are heading towards no deal, revocation seems the most sensible, straightforward and logical course of action. Her amendment would not preclude hon. Members from continuing to pursue a second referendum, as I shall, or from advocating a Norway or Canada-style deal.

I am proud to be voting for the revocation amendment tonight, along with the second referendum amendment that it will enable. I encourage all hon. Members to join me in the Aye Lobby—although I feel that I may be speaking to the converted in this funny debate, in which the Minister, as the only Conservative Member, is looking a little lonely.