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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 7:37 pm on 1st April 2019.

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Photo of Catherine McKinnell Catherine McKinnell Labour, Newcastle upon Tyne North 7:37 pm, 1st April 2019

I thank the Minister for his reply. I was perhaps being a little unfair on him when I picked him up on his reference to Newcastle upon Tyne North being a leave constituency, because, as my hon. Friend Sandy Martin pointed out, there are projected figures for demographic analysis, and I know from the conversations I had on many doorsteps during the referendum campaign that many of my constituents were voting leave.

The discussion and the level of debate from those on the Government Benches have been disappointing throughout this debate, in terms of engagement with the substance of the issue. The point that gets forgotten is a reality check on where we are, rather than going around in ever-decreasing circles, arguing tit for tat about how we got here. We know how we got here. There was a referendum question put to the country that did not specify in any way how it would be delivered, and we had a Government who went ahead and held a general election, and lost their majority. We have a Prime Minister who has completely failed to engage with anyone but those within her own party on this issue, and to reach out and form a consensus.

We know why we are where we are. Like my hon. Friend Jenny Chapman, I was disappointed that the few Conservative Members who initially attended the debate, to whom I gave many opportunities to intervene, got up and left before the end without making any substantive contribution. If I am perfectly honest, their contributions were like those in a school debating club—point scoring rather than engaging with the substance.

I marvel, horrified, when I find Conservative Members of Parliament dismissing out of hand the concerns expressed by the CBI and by chambers of commerce up and down the country that the facts around a no-deal Brexit put so many of our jobs and industries at risk, and that they are not ready, as they have said with absolute clarity. The Conservative party used to pride itself on being the party of business; now it dismisses the concerns of businesses and treats those businesses as though they, and their concerns about a no-deal Brexit, are of no relevance to the Brexit preparations.

That is how we have ended up with this petition. To try to dismiss it as some kind of assault on democracy, which we heard in some hon. Members’ contributions, is not only deeply insulting to every single member of the public who took the trouble to go and sign up on the petitions website, but it ignores the deep, gnawing anxiety of so many people in our country who are terrified of the prospect of a no-deal Brexit and want to know that—as politicians, as Members of Parliament, as a Government—we will not stand by while that happens to our country, with all the consequences it would bring.

Anyone who stands there and says, “I have no fear of a no-deal Brexit; it’ll be absolutely fine,” clearly has nothing to lose and is completely insulated, but I know that my constituents are not. I go back to the point that the Minister made about mine being a leave constituency: the honest answer is we do not know. The vote was calculated as a city, so we know that Newcastle voted remain very marginally. What I do know, as a Member of Parliament who represents, lives in and has children growing up in the constituency, is that I will not take any action if all the evidence, including the Government’s own analysis, points to its damaging my constituency’s prospects.

Even if it means not getting re-elected, the only basis on which I will make this decision is knowing that I have done the right thing in terms of all the evidence I am presented with. That is why this revoke petition has been so popular, but it is also the reason that the call for a confirmatory referendum on whatever Brexit deal the Government arrive at has gained so much support. I recognise, as do my colleagues, that there was a vote to leave the European Union, but how that would happen was not decided upon; that is something Parliament has to decide. We have seen the evidence. We have seen that every single Brexit option will make our constituents poorer, and the impact will be greatest on those in the north-east.

Therefore, my view and the view of many of my colleagues who will support the motion tonight is that we should allow Parliament to have that process, to pass it back through Parliament and give it back to the people to make the final decision. Given that they started the process in 2016, they can now make the final decision on how it ends. That is how I will find out whether this is a Brexit that my constituents support, because they will have the opportunity to vote for it in a referendum—a referendum that every single citizen of this country who can vote can take part in. That is a democratic resolution to the impasse that we find ourselves in here in Parliament.

We know how we got here; we know how to get out of it. It is about time that the Government stopped burying their head in the sand and going around in circles, engaging in a debate that is not taking us forward in any way, but only leaves us stuck in this Brexit chaos. I implore the Minister, rather than engaging in the tit-for-tat that is driving the country to distraction, to compromise and come to an agreement that Parliament cannot take this historic decision without the confidence that it is something the public support.

Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(14)).