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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 6:36 pm on 1st April 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Neil Coyle Neil Coyle Labour, Bermondsey and Old Southwark 6:36 pm, 1st April 2019

I congratulate my hon. Friend Catherine McKinnell on her brilliant opening speech and on being a brilliant MP for my dad. I want to make four brief points, although there are some sub-points—things that might be a bit short.

It is three years since 37% of the eligible electorate voted to leave, and two years since the Prime Minister triggered article 50. Someone earlier described that as premature, but that is an understatement—it was reckless in the extreme. I voted against triggering article 50 and am proud to have done so. Everything we have seen since justifies the decision that I and all those who voted against took at that time.

I speak in support of the petitions in favour of a new people’s vote and revoking article 50 on behalf of an inner-London constituency with a more significant economic cushion. Other hon. Members have spoken about the harm, or the potential speed and depth of the harm, to their constituencies that comes from Brexit. I also want to challenge the idea that there is a north-south divide here, or that this debate is more affluent versus more disadvantaged communities, because that is simply not true.

In my constituency, some wards have 43% child poverty, there are hundreds of working people reliant on food banks under this Government, and there is a very significant homeless and rough-sleeping population. We should all be speaking about the additional damage that Brexit will do to our constituencies. No constituency will be better off as a result of any form of Brexit.

We would be doing people a disservice if we ignored the demographics of the 2016 referendum or the change that we have seen since. It should surprise no one that the vast majority of our black and minority ethnic voters chose to vote remain. They are sick of the foul press narrative, emboldened by this Government, on immigration. Immigrants make a positive net contribution to this country, and we should not be ashamed of making that case. More women, a majority of every group of employed people—full time, part time, self-employed, you name it—and overwhelming numbers of young people, where they voted, voted to remain. The two significant groups that voted to leave were older people and unemployed people. The Government ignore the change since 2016 at their own peril. Where will their voters come from in the future? The demographic change helps to explain why they are scared of going back to the people for a new vote.

I want to highlight some of the damage I have seen, even in an inner-London constituency. I have talked to employers and businesses from across my dynamic and vibrant constituency. Hospitality, construction and the public sector are struggling to recruit already, even before we get to any potential deal or crash out with no deal. I have seen two financial sector firms move to Frankfurt, and I have seen investment from different businesses go instead to Amsterdam when it would otherwise have gone to Elephant and Castle.

We have also seen damage in terms of democracy and the rise in hate. I echo the points made by Dr Wollaston, who spoke about events we saw on Friday. I think it deeply shameful that a neo-fascist was allowed to speak anywhere near the Cenotaph in our capital city.

We have also seen hate grow elsewhere. We now know more than we did before about Putin’s influence and about the depth of lawbreaking, overspending and criminality. Although some of us knew that those were lies on the side of that bus, we had no idea of the depth of the lying and criminality that was going on inside the bus just three years ago.

Voters are now being treated as though they are stupid. It fools no one that the person who, as Home Secretary in 2016, told voters that leaving the European Union would damage our national security and our economy is now, as Prime Minister, pretending that her deal, or any other offering, does anything different. Voters are not stupid and should not be treated as such. It is absurd to have made one claim then and to make a complete counter-claim now.

Those are some of the reasons that the revoke petition in particular has grown so fast and so furiously since it was launched. In my constituency of Southwark, 25,000 people have signed the petition and, in the borough as a whole—across two and a half constituencies—some 75,000 people have signed the petition to revoke article 50. That is more than double the number of people in our borough who voted leave back in 2016.

The Prime Minister claims that she has the support of the people for her pitiful offering, but there is no petition for her deal. That petition does not exist, simply because the public support for it does not exist. I would wager that, even were public support for any such petition to increase, it would still have fewer signatories than there were members of the Cabinet, given what we have seen over the past few weeks.

Finally, even in Bermondsey and Old Southwark—a heavily remain constituency—I have spoken to multiple people whose views have shifted since 2016, as well as many more who still support leave but do not support the Prime Minister’s deal and do support a public vote. Voters whose views have shifted include a prison officer, a banker and a teacher. On Friday, I met a man and his best friend, who is Portuguese and is worried about her future rights in the UK. They recognise the crisis that we are in and the damage that we have seen. They want to revoke article 50 and they want a say on whatever course this country chooses to take. For those reasons, I will be voting today with those people in mind.