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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:22 am on 22nd May 2019.

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Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Conservative, North East Derbyshire 10:22 am, 22nd May 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I congratulate my hon. Friend Julia Lopez on securing this timely and important debate. I would particularly congratulate her on the timing if I thought that she had had any knowledge of what would happen yesterday, but given that I do not think that my Government had any knowledge of it, I am not sure that I can accord her that credit.

I welcome the Minister to his place. I have a huge amount of time for him; he is an amazing man who has done great things in our party, and I am sorry for him, because he is a good man about to defend a bad deal. None of my remarks will be directed against him personally.

Here we go again. Twenty-four hours after the latest catastrophe—the latest stupidity—we are being asked to manage down, mitigate away, split the difference and trample over our manifestos yet again, as if that has worked so well over the past year or so. It is absolutely outrageous that we are even having this conversation, and it is inappropriate that we are not out of the European Union. I am tired of standing up and expressing the frustration of my constituents in North East Derbyshire about the abject failure of this Government to do anything about their core manifesto commitment. We should not be here.

Two years ago, I made a series of commitments to my constituents, and I will not break those commitments even if the Prime Minister breaks hers. I said that we would leave on 29 March; I voted to leave on 29 March. It was because of the Prime Minister’s choice, not the highly inappropriate meaningful vote 3 that was scheduled for that date to embarrass people like me, that we did not leave on 29 March. I said that I would not support a customs union; now my own Government seek to put a customs union to the country. I said that I would not support a European election; tomorrow there will be a European election that should not happen. I said that no deal was better than a bad deal; I will continue to believe that, even if my Prime Minister no longer does. Fundamentally, I said “No second referendum”—and what did I see yesterday? I saw a Prime Minister who is willing to chuck every single principle out of the window to push forward a deal that just will not get the support of this place and, more important, that does not have support outside it.

Every single principle is being put on the fire to get the deal through. It is absolutely outrageous—it is a fundamental misreading of what the people think. The Government are paralysed by inaction, every principle is being shredded, trust is shattered, and what is the apparent answer? Some kind of pick-and-mix, choose-your-own, go-your-own-way Brexit? Some kind of smorgasbord of stupidity? Some kind of Brexit of the shadows, where we push anything through and then let it get amended in Committee, where we think our constituents will not see it, will not comprehend that it is not Brexit, or will not understand that they have been lied to?

I am being asked to endorse something—anything, whatever—as Brexit, simply becomes somebody stands in front of a lectern and tells me it is so. I am being asked to coalesce—to unify—around a cult of stamina that goes nowhere and uses that Protestant work ethic to drive us off a cliff. I am being asked to look a fourth time at a deal that I have already rejected three times, when it has absolutely no coherence, absolutely no understanding and does not respect the will of the people.

We are not a parish council. We are not arguing for 20 years about where a bench should go in the local park. We have a unique responsibility to deliver what people have told us to deliver. I will keep that deal. I will ensure that the residents of North East Derbyshire understand that I am going to deliver my promises even if the leader of my party has decided to break hers. Where do we go from here? The deal will not pass—that is blatantly obvious. The frustration will not go away. The difference will not be split.

Each of us is charged with a unique responsibility as an elected official to ask ourselves a series of deeply personal questions. How long will we allow this tragedy to persist in our name? How long can we look at a wreckage of a Government decaying before our eyes, when the principles that I came into politics for—those good Conservative principles—need to be used to make the constituency of North East Derbyshire and my country better? What will we say in a few years’ time, when it becomes painfully obvious that the abject failure of leadership over the past year was never going to get us anywhere?

My hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch and Upminster highlighted a statement that Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, made a few months ago. He said to us:

“Please do not waste this time.”

I agree with him. It is a Conservative Government—a Conservative Government!—who are wasting this time, failing to demonstrate leadership on the most important thing that we promised the people, and allowing trust in the entire democratic system to be shredded.

There is no dignity in this impasse. There is no honour in the abdication of this responsibility. There is no thanks for what we are doing. Wake up! Wake up before it is too late, and deliver what our country told us to do three years ago.