European Union (Withdrawal) Bill: 12th December 2017

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con)
The hon. Gentleman is right when he says that Margaret Thatcher was pretty much the authoress of the single market. Does he agree that, as trade develops, the best places to do business will be those nearest to us—not those far away, which mean that goods have to be conveyed over huge distances?

Mr Leslie
We are putting a lot of effort into trying to get free trade deals with New Zealand, Australia and other countries, and much as I would love free trade deals with all of them, the fact is that our biggest markets are our nearest neighbours. Having that single market and that customs union is incredibly important, which is why amendment 124 should not be dismissed and I believe Members should support it. We also need to pay attention to the powers and rights that Parliament must now assert if we are to ensure that the Executive do not take back the control that many of our constituents thought was coming to their representatives after the referendum.

Anna Soubry
It is really quite important to understand that this is the process of leaving the European Union, and it has nothing to do with being unprepared in any way. It was always known—well, in as much as we ever knew anything about Brexit—that this was the sort of thing we would have to do to convey this huge body of EU law into domestic British law, and, on that, we are all agreed.

Tommy Sheppard
The right hon. Lady has much greater faith in the Government’s intentions than I perhaps do. What I am trying to suggest—I thought she might possibly agree with me—is that, by this stage in the process, we ought to have some definition of which Acts of Parliament will require amendment, because there are anomalies in them with regard to the body of EU retained law, and we ought to have narrowed down the number of areas in which we have to give Ministers the power to use their discretion and to bring forward changes through delegated legislation to our existing legislation. The fact that we have not narrowed that down and that we are still talking about giving Ministers quite sweeping and general powers is quite alarming, and I only hope that, as we go to the next stage of this process, we will get more clarity. Ministers’ defence is basically to say, “Trust us to rectify these anomalies and to get things right,” but Opposition Members are saying, “Well, we would be better able to trust you if we were able to get a reassurance that you are not going to use these powers in certain areas.” Yet, Ministers are resisting every attempt to qualify and limit the exercise of these powers.

Anna Soubry
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), and I will indeed support his amendment 124 when he presses it to a vote. It is, effectively, about the benefits of the single market and making sure that, as much as we can, we retain our membership of it, especially after we have left the European Union.

I rise to support all the amendments I have signed, which are mainly those that have been drafted by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve). I also rise to support the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), and I congratulate him and his Committee on coming up with their proposals. I also thank him for reassuring some of us who were concerned that this creature that was created, quite properly, to address the concerns that many right hon. and hon. Members identified on Second Reading might not have any teeth. However, he explained that the effect of sanctioning a Minister, as he quite properly identified it, has political consequences that do the job. On that basis, I am content with the proposed new committee. Obviously, I have concerns, but I am delighted that the Government have accepted the relevant amendments.​

If it is pushed to a vote, I will also vote for amendment 49. I thought that the speech by the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) was admirable. In fact, her amendment is hardly revolutionary; it is an entirely proper amendment to this important piece of legislation and this clause. It uses the word “necessary”, and I think that that was the word used in the original White Paper. I will therefore be supporting the amendment.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) for his probing amendment. If I had got round to it—I have signed so many amendments—I would have signed his, for what that is worth. In looking at his speech in particular, and at so many of the other speeches we have heard today, it is really important to understand what people like and do not like about this place and, indeed, about politicians. The public actually like it when we agree across parties; people mistake that. I am not saying that the public do not enjoy some of the spectacle of Prime Minister’s questions—there is nothing wrong with a good hearty debate and row on points that will forever divide us; they identify our political beliefs and parties. However, on those occasions when we agree, the British public absolutely like it.

The big mistake that the Government have made—I really hope that they will now look deeply into this—is to assume that the normal rules apply in relation to this Bill and all matters to do with Brexit. This is a unique Bill and this is a unique situation. Never before have we had a referendum that has so divided the British people. These are things that we have to understand and say. It was a very close result. Only 52% of those who voted voted for us to leave the European Union, and 48% of those who voted voted for us to remain. If that result had been reversed, I think we all know what would have happened. The people in the 48% would not have packed up their toys and said, “Fair do’s, everybody, I’m off now. I won’t carry on banging on about Europe because the matter has been settled and I accept the result.” We can be absolutely sure that with that difference of 48:52, they would have pursued a lifetime’s habit and kept banging on because of the narrowness of the vote.

Jess Phillips (Birmingham, Yardley) (Lab)
May I introduce you to Bill Cash?

Anna Soubry
I did not hear what the hon. Lady said, but I am sure that Hansard did, so I will move swiftly on.

I say to those on the Treasury Bench, and anybody else who might be listening to this speech, that the profound difference between those people and people like me—right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House, right across these green Benches—is that we have accepted the result, although it may break our hearts to do so. That is quite a dramatic statement, but many people are genuinely upset that we are going to leave the European Union. Nevertheless, they have accepted the result even though it goes against everything that they have ever believed in. They have not only accepted the result, but then voted to trigger article 50. One of the things that saddens me as much as it saddens me that we are going leave the European Union—probably more so—is the inability of the people who supported and voted for the leave campaign to understand and ​respect those of us who were remainers, who voted to trigger article 50, and now genuinely say that we are here to help deliver this result to get the best deal that we can as a country, putting our country before our own views and before our party political allegiances.

It may be that some leavers, especially some people in Government or formerly in Government, cannot accept that because unfortunately—I am going to have to say this—they judge people like me by their own standards. For people to say that by tabling an amendment one is somehow trying to thwart or stop Brexit is, frankly, gravely offensive. That level of insult—because it is an insult—has got to stop. People have to accept that there is a genuine desire certainly among people on the Government Benches, and on the Opposition Benches, to try to come together to heal the divide and get the best deal for our country.

Angela Smith
Does the right hon. Lady accept, too, that a significant proportion of the voters who voted leave would agree with her that the hijacking of the leave argument by a small minority is damaging the debate?

Anna Soubry
I very much agree with the hon. Lady. It is not right and it is not fair. It also, as she rightly identified, does not reflect leave voters. We have got ourselves into a ludicrous situation whereby a very small number of people in this place, in this Government, and indeed in the country at large, suddenly seem to be running the show. That is not right, because they do not reflect leave voters, who, overwhelmingly, are pragmatic, sensible people who unite with the overwhelming majority of people who voted remain and who, frankly, want us all to get together, move on, get the best deal, and get on with Brexit.

That, I think, is where the British people are. I think they are also uneasy, worried and rather queasy because of all the things that we have spoken about in this place. They now realise, as I think my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham said, that it is very difficult, this Brexit. It is indeed difficult to deliver it, and many people thought from the rhetoric of the leave campaign that it would be oh, so easy. Indeed, others—such as the Secretary of State, who is beautifully arriving in the Chamber—believed that a trade deal would be done in but a day and a half.

I am being pragmatic, so I am not going to make any more such points; I am going to try to move the discussion on. But I urge all members of Her Majesty’s Government, especially those in the most important positions, to please reach out to the remainers—now often called former remainers—who made up the 48%. I urge those Government members not to tar us with the paintbrush that they may have used for many years, but to try to build a consensus. That means that the Government need to give a little bit more than they have given so far.

The reason why I support the single market, the customs union and the positive benefits of immigration is not that I am some treacherous mutineer. My hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham is hardly some sort of Brexit mutineer, but he is an excellent example of someone who quite properly tables a probing new clause because he is doing his job as a Member of Parliament. That is why amendments have been tabled ​by all manner of people, and they have been supported in a cross-party manner to a degree that apparently has not been seen for a very long time. That is commendable.

I am no rebel, because like many of my former Back-Bench colleagues who now sit on the Front Bench, I made it very clear to the good people of Broxtowe that I was standing as a Conservative but I did not endorse my party’s manifesto in relation to the single market and the customs union. Sitting on the Front Bench today are hon. Members who, in the past, stood quite properly in their constituencies as Conservatives while making it very clear that they did not support our party’s policy on the European Union and would campaign for us to withdraw. I make no criticism of that. I say, “Thank goodness,” because that is what we want in a good, healthy democracy. But it is ironic, is it not, that the Secretary of State has rebelled, I think, some 30 times on European matters?

The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union (Mr David Davis)

Anna Soubry
He says, “More.” I do not criticise him for doing so. I bet he has never been called a Brexit mutineer—well, he would not have been called a Brexit mutineer, but I am as sure as anything that he has not been abused in the same way as other people who have had the temerity to table an amendment and see it through. The Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) rebelled, I think, some 30 times between 2010 and 2015. He and the Secretary of State will understand how important it is for us, having made our case clear to our electorate, to be true to the principles on which we stood and got elected. When we come here, if we do nothing else, we must surely uphold those principles—our mandate—by tabling amendments and voting for them.

If the Government are genuine about getting a good deal and healing the great divide—I very much hope that Ministers understand the damage that is still being caused to our country and the importance of healing the divide—they must reach out tomorrow, if not today, and do the right thing so that we get the right result. That will enable us to build on the consensus that broke out on Friday and move forward with delivering Brexit to get the best deal for everybody in our country.