Leaving the EU: Extension Period Negotiations — [Mr Laurence Robertson in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:55 am on 22nd May 2019.

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Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Conservative, Walsall North 9:55 am, 22nd May 2019

That could be difficult, Mr Robertson. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I thank my hon. Friend Julia Lopez for securing this debate. Little did she know that it would serve as an opportunity to release some of the anger I feel following the announcement last night, but more of that later, perhaps.

As is often the case when I get to my feet here or in the Chamber, my audience first and foremost is the good people of Walsall North, because I am here to speak on their behalf and also to speak to them. They will be slightly perplexed, because tomorrow, we will take part in the European elections. That might sound like a fairly uneventful thing, but let us go over it again: tomorrow, we will take part in the European elections. Some 1,062 days ago, 17,410,742 people voted to leave the European Union, yet this Government have so far, after 1,062 days, been unable to deliver that. How do we think the people of Willenhall, Bloxwich and Walsall North are feeling? Not too good, I would say, and that was 24 hours ago. I am not sure how they are feeling after they heard from the Prime Minister yesterday.

Let us talk, however, about why my constituents might have voted to leave in the first place and how optimistic they might have felt. What grounds did those people have for their optimism, which we seem to have misplaced on their behalf? First, let us think about what was happening in 2010. In 2010, Merkel, the German Chancellor, was talking to Sarkozy, the French President, about reform of the Lisbon treaty. They wanted a little photo opportunity, so they took a walk along the beach in Deauville. They were able to do that without their advisers present. Why was that? We know that Merkel does not speak French and Sarkozy does not speak German, but they both spoke English. It is the universal language of business. What a great opportunity we have, because we speak a lot of English in this country. It is a handy place for people to locate their business.

Hiroshi Mikitani, the chief exec of Rakuten, certainly thinks that. He runs a business in Japan that employs 7,500 people. There must have been something in the air in 2010, because he told his business that from then on, it would conduct all its business transactions in—you guessed it—English, because he understood that it was the language of business across the world. The people of Walsall North understand that, too, which is why they believe that people come to locate their businesses in the great United Kingdom.

People right across the globe know where Liverpool, Manchester and London are. We know that because the premier league is broadcast in 221 areas across the world. It is the most successful football league anywhere on the planet. It is broadcast to 640 million houses, with a possible viewership of 4 billion. People right across the planet know where England is. They know where the constituent cities of our great country are because we have great advertising through the premier league.

If those people come here, will they be studying in great universities? According to the Centre for World University Rankings, they damn well will be. Those rankings put two of our universities in the top 10. Unfortunately, they did not have any room for any other European universities in the top 10.QS, on the other hand, put four of our universities in the top 20, and, once again, it did not have any room in the top 20 for other European universities. We have the best universities in Europe as well as having the premiership, and, conveniently for my speech today, the two teams contesting the final of the champions league happen to be from England.

A great nation has a fantastic opportunity and great optimism. People went to the polls and voted to leave because they damn well knew that the UK could make its own way in the world. They also knew that we were leaving the European Union, but not leaving Europe. They knew that nine out of 10 of our holiday destinations were to Europe. They will continue to take their holidays there and they expect us to continue to trade. We will still be friends and will still need each other’s products.