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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 6:42 pm on 1st April 2019.

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Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Devolved Government Relations), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment and Rural Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales) 6:42 pm, 1st April 2019

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr McCabe. There have been some terrific contributions in the debate. I particularly appreciated that of Catherine McKinnell, which was wide ranging and covered a great many points that I very much agreed with. Something that really stuck out was what she said about the very different visions of what Brexit meant and how no one was talking to pull those visions together into some sort of whole. I will address that further in my speech.

Mr Leslie spoke of a mirage of Brexit, which I thought was a terrific term. It really describes the nonsense, in some cases, that we were told by those who supported Brexit and which was offered to those who would eventually vote for it. Describing that as a mirage is particularly apt. Rachael Maskell spoke of the country never forgiving and mentioned citizens’ assemblies, which are certainly something that should be considered more closely.

Chuka Umunna quite rightly reminded us of the younger generation, of the importance of these decisions for their lives and of how we, as those who are in power now—and of a certain generation, in my case—must remember and consider them at all times. We in this place are creating their future and, frankly, if we pursue this Brexit, it will be a very poor future—I include my own children in that consideration.

My hon. Friend Martyn Day gave a terrific speech, for which I thank him. It was very measured and considered and I agreed with everything that he said. Martin Whitfield reminded us that, ultimately, Brexit is a political choice. That must be remembered during our votes tonight and in all our consideration of this incredibly important issue.

I must highlight in particular the contribution from Dr Wollaston, which was extremely frank. She, too, spoke of the many different versions of Brexit, and her condemnation of the hostility that has arisen in recent weeks hit the nail right on the head. She spoke of the whole Brexit debate unleashing dark forces and division. We must stand up to the far right rather than appease it.

The call rings out from Brexiters that we must respect the will of the people in the 2016 referendum. The question that keeps occurring to me is, “What was the will that was expressed?” For some, it was perhaps the £350 million a week for the NHS, and they may be very disappointed when that does not arrive. For others, it may have been the higher wages that were promised during the leave campaign, which is a benefit that does not seem to be appearing any time soon. Some may have been wooed by the promise to scrap VAT, about which we have heard almost nothing since, or perhaps by the easy-as-pie trade deals, of which we were supposed to have dozens by now. Alternatively, was it the UK-EU trade deal or the new immigration system that we were supposed to have by May next year?

One thing that we still have is the pledge that there will be no change to the operation of the Irish border, as promised in a Vote Leave news release of 1 June 2016 by the right hon. Members for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) and for Witham (Priti Patel). The one promise left standing is the one that seems to be causing all the problems between the Tories and the DUP.

Despite all the fluff and flannel since 2016, it is fairly clear that leave never meant leave and Brexit never meant Brexit. In the blizzard of reasons for voting one way or another, there was never a manifesto; there was never a plan for what happens afterwards; and there was never any vision of the future. No one was selling truth or honesty, but there was plenty of prejudice and imagined slight on offer, and plenty of gung-ho hot-headed invective, but very little sober reflection.

Since then, however, we have all had a chance to take stock. From hearing other hon. Members today, I know that they, like me, have spent time talking to constituents and have received a range of different responses. I have met people who wanted to leave so that our laws would be made at home, but who still wanted to keep freedom of movement. I spoke to one lady who did not like the control that she thought the EU had over our lives, but thought we should have common standards for goods across Europe. There was no settled will of the people, no single movement, and no collective decision-making. There was no plan to vote for, no manifesto to be held to, and no vision of a new constitution. Any politician who says that they are simply respecting the will of the people is actually just hijacking an advisory plebiscite for their own personal or political advantage.

My constituency of Edinburgh North and Leith is decidedly in favour of the EU. More than a quarter of the population signed the online petitions to revoke article 50. That reflects what is said to me across the constituency on a regular basis. People are worried about whether their doctor will be still be here in future. They are concerned about whether their neighbours and friends will face pressure to leave. Concerned constituents have made countless representations to me about how the community will be affected if we no longer have the flow of fresh faces and if we cannot hang on to the new Edinburgh North and Leithers that we have currently.

The wife of the regius keeper of the Royal Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh contacted me because she was concerned about her right to stay. She did not work much while she was bringing up their children, but her husband served with distinction in the Marines, and was invalided out at the rank of lieutenant colonel. He is also a member of the Her Majesty’s Body Guard of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen at Arms, but that cuts no ice. A constituent who does not want to be named because she fears the repercussions came to me in fear of being deported to the EU country that she left as a toddler to come to the UK even before that country joined the Common Market. She raised her family here and looks after her grandchildren while her children work, but her status here is now uncertain.