I beg to move,
That this House
has considered negotiations on the UK leaving the EU during the EU extension period.
Although I have contributed to many Westminster Hall debates, it is an honour to lead my first one this morning and to do so under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson.
In my maiden speech nearly two years ago, I spoke of the “delicate gift” that is our “parliamentary democracy”, which is
“the sum of the toil” and
“sacrifice…that generations before us have made”.
I also said that this “dynamic system” has worked on “trust”, with each cohort of parliamentarians vowing to “fine-tune” and reform our laws and institutions
“to reflect the needs and desires of the citizens they represent.” —[Official Report,
Vol. 626, c. 1392.]
I made my own vow two years ago, standing on a manifesto to leave the single market and customs union, in an election at which nearly 85% of votes went to parties promising to fulfil the referendum result. I was elected to a House that had already triggered the two-year countdown to our departure from the EU, and I took leadership from a Cabinet that repeated in one voice that no deal was better than a bad deal.
On the eve of European elections, we should all reflect with regret on the fact that this generation of parliamentarians is now on the cusp of losing the trust that is so fundamental to democratic legitimacy. Could there be a more poignant symbol of that devastating loss than the scaffolded shroud that this mother of Parliaments now wears? How disappointing to those who flock to this place in admiration that they find not a confident institution but one where Big Ben—the icon of our democracy—is silent, its clock face peeping on to a Parliament that is being incrementally fortified against rising anger from the streets.
I do not wish to downplay the magnitude of the decision to leave the EU or the complexity of extracting ourselves from the EU some 40 years after entry. However, it should have been our role as parliamentarians to address and manage those complexities. Instead, it is an indictment of this place that, three years on, the question of whether we shall leave the EU at all is not even a settled one. There remains no clear vision of our future relationship with the EU or of our new role in the world to underpin Government strategy. In the absence of that vision, we have become increasingly desperate just to deliver the word Brexit, even if an unholy fudge to obtain our withdrawal binds us into the very systems that the electorate rejected while denying our voice within them.
I sought this debate not to argue about the merits or otherwise of leaving the EU, because that decision has been made, nor to pick over the bones of a withdrawal agreement that has thrice been rejected. Instead, I want us to take stock, ask ourselves how we got here and then—most importantly—ask how we can make use of the period until
There are many and varied reasons why people voted to leave, but one of the turning points for me as a floating voter was the conclusion of the attempted renegotiation of our membership. In my opinion, the preference of many swing voters would have been to stay in the EU and reform it from within. However, the renegotiation was the point at which it became clear that British influence, and the threat of the third largest member of the EU walking away from it, was going to be an insufficient driver in making the EU more dynamic and accountable. Instead, the eurozone members were likely to require further political integration, creating a deeper divide with non-eurozone nations and an even more pronounced loss of influence for our nation when it comes to addressing the concerns of our own citizens.
Since then, we have spent three years effectively trying to carve out a bespoke association agreement with the EU, with Chequers being the Prime Minister’s attempt to obtain a half-in, half-out option. The EU dubbed that cherry-picking, and in reading the UK’s political dynamic, it has banked our offers of cash and a comprehensive security partnership, while holding us to a backstop in Northern Ireland that in the next stage of talks will ultimately pull us into a customs union and large parts of the single market. If it does not do that, it risks splitting our country.