European Union (Withdrawal) Bill: 12th June 2018

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con)
I have never written a speech before and then had it typed out, Mr Speaker, and now I do not know why I bothered: not only have you cut the time, but you can see how the debate has advanced.​

I am sorry but I am going to speak, as ever, frankly. This has got to stop; this is unseemly; this is the most important piece of legislation that this House has considered arguably since the second world war, and we sit here and watch a peculiar sort of horse-trading over the perfectly excellent amendment put forward by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), who served in the Government for decades—[Interruption.] He served in the Government for a number of years, but he has served this party for decades and he has never rebelled once. I gently say to my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), who in just eight years rebelled 58 times, and to the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, who along with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) rebelled in total 160 times, that we here understand the concept of being loyal to leadership and, indeed, being true and honourable to our principles—and I believe they are men of conscience and principle.

Let us look around us at what is happening. There are good men and women of great ability, and indeed courage, who are, unfortunately, no longer in our Cabinet, such as my right hon. Friends the Members for Ashford (Damian Green), for Putney (Justine Greening) and for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd)—all great people who have been lost from our deeply divided Cabinet. Never before have we had a Cabinet that is so divided, and with some of its most senior people, who hold the greatest offices of state, at every twist and turn, when our Prime Minister moves towards securing a Brexit that will serve everybody in our country—the softest, most sensible of Brexits—both publicly and privately undermining her and scuppering her attempts. It simply has to stop, and the moment for it to stop is now.

I know absolutely that the Solicitor General is a man of great honour, whose word will always be true, but I say with the greatest respect to him that he is not the most senior person around today and it is not his decision. He knows that I say that as somebody with great respect and love for him. So where is the Secretary of State? All he has to do is accept the amendment of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield. If he does not, he will force Members who for decades have never before rebelled to traipse through a Lobby or sit and abstain, just as they did in the Lords—and who I will support in each and every one of those important amendments on the EEA and the customs union and amendment 19.

Those Lords were Members of this place once; they include a former Chief Whip, a former Deputy Prime Minister, more Secretaries of State than we could shake a stick at, a former Leader of the House, and two former party chairmen. For decades they were always loyal to every leader. Meanwhile, there lurk some, I am afraid, who for decades have plotted and connived. They have got rid of leaders and anybody and anything that stood in their way, and they will continue so to do. Even if they are supported by Russian bots and their dirty money, they will do what they have had a lifetime’s ambition to do, which is to take us over the cliff into the hard Brexit that my constituents did not vote for. I will continue to represent my constituents. We reckon that overall 52% voted to leave, but the 48% who voted to remain have been put to one side in this process and ignored. That has to stop. We have to come back together and we have to do the right thing.​

I know and understand how difficult it is for many of my colleagues to go through the Lobby and vote against their party, but I say this: I am getting a little tired of the right hon. and hon. Members on the Back Benches, in government and even in the Cabinet who come up to me and others in quiet and dark corridors; of the British businesses that demand private meetings in which they lay bare their despair but refuse to go public; of the commentators who say to me, “You’re doing a great job. Keep on going”, in the face of death threats which have meant that one of our number has had to attend a public engagement with six armed undercover police officers—that is the country that we have created and it has got to stop; and to the journalists who fight nobly for every cause but on this, this most important of issues, are mute. It has got to stop. Everybody now has to stand up and be true to what they believe in.

Finally, Mr Speaker, I hope you will give me time to find and read out some great words:

“The House is made up of 651 robust individuals whose position gives them a powerful say in what the Executive can and cannot do. The powers of the House are sovereign and they have the ability to upset the best-laid plans of Ministers and of Government, which no Minister ever forgets, and nor should any Back Bencher”.

Those words were true then, and they are true now. They were spoken by the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. Accept the amendment!

Dr Phillip Lee (Bracknell) (Con)
Resigning ministerial office has been an incredibly difficult decision. I did that in order to support my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve)—my trusted friend—in his attempt to amend the Government amendment to Lords amendment 19. I am devastated to have had to take this decision. I owe the House an explanation and there are four points I would make.

For me personally, this is a matter of deep principle. I believe in the Burkean principle that our institutions guarantee our human rights. Most important of all, a Government’s first responsibility is to protect their citizens. That is usually understood in military terms, but I believe it applies more generally. It means that, sometimes, when a majority of our people want something that is against the good of society, the Government and Parliament have a responsibility to protect us. That was the case on the death penalty, when for decades politicians went against the majority view and refused to reinstate it. I believe it now needs to be the case on the Brexit process.

Anna Soubry
Congratulations and well done, sir.