European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill: 13th March 2017

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con)
I am going to keep my comments as brief as possible so that as many Members as possible can speak. I spoke when we last considered, effectively, amendment 2 in its new form, and I just say this: it is surely perverse that we are in a situation whereby if there is a deal it comes back to this place and we debate it and vote on it, but if there is the worst scenario—which is no deal—we are not entitled to that say or that vote. That simply cannot be right.

This is not a debate about Brexit. We have had that vote; I voted against my conscience in accordance with the promise I made to the people of Broxtowe that I would honour the referendum result, and I voted for us to leave the EU. So we have had that one; we are moving on.

This debate is actually all about parliamentary sovereignty, and there are some uncomfortable truths that need to be said. It took a few brave souls—and they were brave—to go to the High Court and then the Supreme Court to establish parliamentary sovereignty. That is why we now have this Bill—not because we did it in this place, and history will record all these things, but because of what they did. But to the credit of the Government, they accepted that.

I understand that there is a good argument to be made that this is a short and simple Bill, but the difficulty, and the reason why I found myself for the first time voting ​against my Government, is this intransigence—this inability to accept that in the worst-case scenario this place is not going to be allowed a say. And for this Secretary of State, of all Members of this place, with his fine track record of establishing, and fighting at every opportunity for the sovereignty of Parliament, to be standing up and denying us that on this particular issue is deeply ironic.

Mr Baron
Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Anna Soubry
Because I am being generous, I will.

Mr Baron
But does my right hon. Friend not accept the simple point that this place made a contract with the British people at that referendum—[Interruption.] The Scottish National party might not like it, but it is true. Therefore, whatever the deal, if there is a good deal, we will take it, and if there is not, the Prime Minister has made it very clear that we will not accept a bad deal, so we move on, and we move out of the EU.

Anna Soubry
My hon. Friend forgets that there was just one question on the ballot paper—did we want to remain in or leave the EU—and 52% of the people who voted chose to leave. That is what we are doing. We—some of us—on this side have honoured that result and voted for us to leave. Now, however, we are talking about the sovereignty of this Parliament and about what would happen in the event that our Prime Minister does not strike a good deal. I trust our Prime Minister to do everything that she can, and I will support her in her efforts to get that good deal, but let us be under no illusion that if she does not do so, there will be no alternative but WTO tariffs, regulations and rules, and the people in my constituency certainly did not vote for that—

Mr Baron
So?

Anna Soubry
My hon. Friend says “So?” I can assure him that it is not only me but our Prime Minister who takes the view that falling off a cliff edge would be the worst possible outcome for the people of this country. That is the one thing that we must ensure does not happen. In the light of that, we in this place must assist the Government with what happens next.

There is going to be a remarkable set of negotiations to achieve three bespoke deals—on trade, customs and security—in what will actually be an 18-month timeframe. But let us say that that worst-case scenario happens and that there is no deal at the end of that. If I may, I should like to say to Opposition Members, especially those in the north of Ireland—

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP)
Northern Ireland.

Anna Soubry
Northern Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman needs no lessons on my support for the efforts and work of Northern Ireland Members. The real danger that we face is the cliff edge and, as a result, the hard border in Ireland that none of us wants.

In two years’ time, things might well have changed remarkably in this country, not just politically but economically. Economically, having had the buoyancy of a devalued pound and people actually spending on ​the basis of their savings, inflation might then have kicked in and we could find that our economy was no longer in the fine fettle that it appears to be now. Politically, we could be facing great harm in every way possible through the break-up of the Union, with the Scots going their own way following a referendum and, tragically for Northern Ireland, with talk of a united Ireland or a breakdown of the peace that has lasted for some years. In the light of that, all the options must remain open for us to debate and decide upon. We could, for example, decide to restore the free movement of labour and consider the benefits of the single market, which would solve the problem for Northern Ireland and for Scotland.

Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Lab)
Does the hon. Lady agree that this is not only an issue of principle, in regard to parliamentary sovereignty and having a meaningful say, but an issue of good practice? We should not swallow the argument of an incentive to offer the worst possible deal. Lords amendment 2 would instil discipline and accountability in the Government as well as among our negotiating partners, because at any stage the Prime Minister would be able to say, “I can’t agree to that, because I have to sell it to Parliament.”

Mr Speaker
Order. Interventions must be brief. We have very little time.

Anna Soubry
I want to close by saying this, Mr Speaker. The idea that, by doing the right thing and allowing us to have a vote and a say in the event of no deal, we would somehow be weakening the Prime Minister’s negotiating hand is absolutely perverse. It is as though all these deliberations and all the divisions that still exist in our country are not being reported throughout the whole of Europe. It is as though all this is taking place in some kind of silence. Everyone in Europe knows how divided our nation is. They know about the deliberations in this place and in the other place. They also know that, of those who voted, only 52% voted for us to leave the European Union. I urge the Government, for the sake of bringing unity not only to our party but to the country at large, to allow Parliament’s sovereignty to reign and, in the event of no deal, to allow us to have a vote and a say.

Anna Soubry
I am grateful for the opportunity to make myself clear. I said that if we do not get a deal, the matter should come back to Parliament and we should consider all options, given the circumstances that we would find ourselves in. It may well—[Hon. Members: “Ah!”] I am so sorry; I thought we lived in a democracy, but I have obviously got that completely wrong. It is hard to see how we would go back on our decision to leave the EU.