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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 7:12 pm on 1st April 2019.

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Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union 7:12 pm, 1st April 2019

I have said what I have said in public, and I will happily take that up with the hon. Lady after the debate.

I also thank the hon. Members for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day), for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West), for Stockport (Ann Coffey), for East Lothian (Martin Whitfield) and for Totnes (Dr Wollaston). The hon. Member for Totnes cited a whole host of reasons why she is allowed to change her mind. I will not go back and quote all the things she said to her electorate in the 2017 general election. I also thank Neil Coyle, and Deidre Brock, who missed the point that wages are rising ahead of inflation at this point in time, and obviously I thank the hon. Member for Darlington, who informed us about Labour’s whipping.

More importantly, I thank the number of people who have expressed themselves to the Government in the three petitions we have debated, which ask us to reverse the 2016 referendum result, whether by revoking article 50 or holding a second referendum, as well as the exact opposite: that the Government ensure that we deliver the outcome of the 2016 referendum no matter what. The Government’s position remains clear: we will not revoke article 50 and we will not hold a second referendum. We remain committed to leaving the European Union and implementing the result of the 2016 referendum.

Parliament’s position is now also clear. In the series of indicative votes on 27 March, Parliament voted on the options of revoking article 50 and holding a second referendum. Neither option achieved a majority in the House. Indeed, the House voted, with a majority of more than 100, against revoking article 50.

The Government really do acknowledge the substantial number of signatures that these petitions have amassed. We also recognise the hundreds of thousands of people who marched in London on 23 March in favour of a second referendum. In particular—I do not think anyone has done this—I congratulate Margaret Anne Georgiadou, the creator of the revocation of article 50 petition, for starting a petition that, at current count, has attracted more than 6 million signatures. That is a considerable achievement in anyone’s terms.

I want to take a moment to note that I, the Government and, I am sure, everyone in the Chamber, were disgusted to hear the reports that Ms Georgiadou has received threats and abuse for starting a petition. That is utterly unacceptable. Everyone should feel and be able to express their opinions and participate in political discourse without fear of intimidation or abuse. That is integral to our democracy and it should be at the front and centre of our minds when we debate and discuss all issues, including Brexit. It is those democratic values that underpin the Government’s commitment to uphold the result of the 2016 referendum.

Although I have elaborated on this process before, let me do so again, to reinforce exactly why it is that we must uphold the result. In 2015, Parliament voted overwhelmingly to give the British people a choice on whether to remain in or leave the European Union, allowing them to express a clear view to Government. Before we asked them to vote, the Government wrote to every household, committing to implement whatever decision they made.

On 23 June 2016, the British people expressed their view to Government. With nearly three quarters of the electorate taking part, 17.4 million people voted to leave the European Union. That is the highest number of votes cast for any single course of action in UK electoral history. More British people than ever before or since amassed in agreement on a single, clear outcome: they wanted the Government to deliver the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.

Of course, Parliament also made a commitment to uphold the result of the 2016 referendum. In the 2017 general election, the British people cast their votes again, and more than 80% of voters voted for parties who committed in their manifestos to uphold the result of the referendum.