European Union (Withdrawal) Bill: 15th November 2017

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con)
I know that an overwhelming majority of the people who voted in the hon. Lady’s constituency voted to remain. Does she share my concern that many such people feel completely excluded from Brexit? Does she think that this sort of debate will absolutely help to bring people back together and, perhaps, to form a consensus on Brexit?

Heidi Alexander
I completely agree. My new clause may offer some form of compromise, which I shall set out in due course.

How many of our colleagues actually understand what the Bill will do? Why do the Government want to avoid open and transparent debate? Why is there not a specific clause in the Bill that makes it clear? The answer is obvious: the Government are doing everything they can to avoid an explicit vote on whether the UK should leave the EEA and the single market. They are worried that there might be a parliamentary majority for a so-called soft Brexit, in which we put jobs first and anxieties about immigration and so-called sovereignty second.

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con)
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Streatham (Chuka Umunna). We are co-chairs of the all-party parliamentary group on EU relations; our relationship with the EU will continue. He chairs it extremely ably. I am grateful to him for the kind comments that he made at the beginning. His analysis, as ever, was absolutely spot on. For far too long, we have had far too much rhetoric and far too many insults flowing around. We have to stop the silly things that have been said about people like me, and indeed him and other right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber, and the constant attacks. We are told that if we have the views that we have then we are remoaners who are trying somehow to thwart the will of the people and so on. It does not help and it has not helped. History will not be kind to this place when what has happened since the referendum back in 2016 is written about.

What is really interesting as we enter day two of this debate is to see Conservative Members suddenly coming over and talking to each other. People who voted leave and were very vociferous during the campaign are coming over and talking to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) where there are clear concerns on constitutional matters and on the sovereignty of this place. Conversations are held between those of both main parties and of other parties. All these things are good. This is about healing the great divide that has occurred in our party. The fact that it is happening on this side of the Chamber as well is important.

The reason that people like me get so agitated is that one moment last night was really deeply unpleasant. Some of my right hon. and hon. Friends, when they saw the electronic copy of that newspaper, were genuinely concerned and worried because they knew that they would get the sorts of emails, tweets and Facebook ​postings that we have had before, and we would get all that stirring up of the old antipathy of this long-running sore that has bedevilled my party in particular. It is not acceptable when people keep perpetuating these myths. As the hon. Member for Streatham says, it fuels the flames.

If nothing else, I think we can now make progress. Let us stop the rhetoric, stop accusing people like me of wanting to thwart the will of the people and accept that we are leaving. If my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) accepts that we are leaving the EU, how many times do we have to say it before all these insults stop and we make the progress that we need to make in now delivering a Brexit that benefits everybody in this country? I support new clause 22.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab)
I would not like the public who are listening or watching to take the right hon. Lady to mean that the abuse, nasty remarks and things that are going on are only against people who were remainers. Some of us on the other side of the argument have received a huge amount of abuse, but we sometimes think it is probably easier and better simply to ignore it.

Anna Soubry
I would love to ignore death threats, but I actually find them quite frightening. As a result, I have in the past reported at least two to the police. The courts took it very seriously, I say gently to the hon. Lady. They sent one person to prison and suspended the other person’s custodial sentence. I am glad that some people in this place take it seriously.

Peter Kyle (Hove) (Lab)
The right hon. Lady and I have had our differences during my time in Parliament since 2015, particularly when she was a Business Minister. We had some vigorous debates and disagreements when I, as a member of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, challenged her about the steel industry and the industrial strategy, but I felt that she was always very respectful of my view and the strength with which I held it. Why were we able to have such vigorous but respectful debate over such policy issues, but Brexit seems to bring out the very worst in public discourse in this place and beyond?

The Temporary Chair (David Hanson)
Order. I know that Members feel strongly about this subject, but we are straying slightly from new clause 2.

Anna Soubry
I am desperate to get on with supporting new clause 22 and endorsing the excellent speech made by the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander). Notwithstanding the referendum result, we all need to move on. When I stood for election in Broxtowe in June, I did so on the clear platform of accepting that we were leaving the European Union but continuing to make the case for the single market, the customs union and the positive benefits of immigration.

The reason why I say that with some conviction is that if we are all very honest about it, there is unfortunately every chance that we will not get anything like the sort of trade deal that we want. I have no doubt that we will get deals on security, aviation and so on, but the harsh and uncomfortable reality is that there is very little chance that we will actually get the sort of trade deal ​that we need to secure our country’s future. On that basis, the only alternative at the moment seems to be to crash out with no deal. I am not criticising the Government for making preparations for that eventuality, because it would be foolish of them not to do so, but I suggest that the idea that we will have either a deal or no deal is not the way to see it. We do not have just two options; there is a third option, which is for us to continue to be a member of the EEA and a member of EFTA.

I take this view, which I base on knocking on hundreds of doors during the election campaign and continuing to talk to my constituents when I go out leafleting and so on. I think that most people in the real world are absolutely fed up with all this. They have had enough of us all squabbling and moaning and groaning. It is unpleasant, and people are sick and tired of it. I think they take the view, “Look, you have all been elected to this place, and you have got a Government in place. For goodness’ sake, just get on and do it.” Now let us have a debate about what “it” is and how we do it for the very best in our country. Let us have that sort of debate. I think that we will be criticised for the fact that it has taken us so long to have that debate.

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)
Does the right hon. Lady agree that the debates that we are having could be helpful to the Government? The Government are much more likely to be able to “do it”, as she puts it, if they reflect the consensus view of opinion across the House.

Anna Soubry
I completely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I go on about what history will write about this place, and one of the observations of history will be the lack of debate until almost this point, which does us no credit. Another will be that at least two thirds, I reckon, of the people elected to this place are of the same view on the customs union and single market.
 
Angus Brendan MacNeil
The right hon. Lady is making some very good arguments, which chime with the SNP’s position. The difficulty is that the Conservative party and the main Opposition Labour party have the same policy; they are both wedded to leaving the single market and leaving the customs union. Unfortunately, parliamentary arithmetic is against us in this matter, and that situation is taking the UK over the cliff edge.

Anna Soubry
I am not going to adopt the hon. Gentleman’s tribal language, because I am trying to build a consensus. I understand why Conservative Front Benchers find themselves in the position that they are in. Equally, I understand the difficulties that the Labour party has. The simple, harsh reality is that people from all parties voted both leave and remain.

One of our biggest problems when we try to resolve this issue is immigration. We need to have a proper debate about immigration and make the positive case for it. We need to explain that there is not a small army of people sitting at home, desperate to work in the fields of Lincolnshire and Kent or in the food processing factory in my constituency, for example. We need to explain that people come to our country to work and that we would be lost without them—not just in the fields or the factories, as I described, but in our great NHS.​

I have been speaking to businesses, as many of us do, and the facts I am told are that many of our manufacturers have seen a 10% decline in the number of workers from the European Union and that they cannot find people in our country to replace them. This is serious stuff—I do now want to digress and get into the arguments about immigration—and it is our job as politicians to lead such arguments. We have previously discussed the proud history of those on both sides of the House in leading on social change, and we as politicians have an absolute duty to make such a case.

Wera Hobhouse
Does the right hon. Lady not agree that what we are really discussing is democracy and how we interpret it? As much as I agree that the language has sometimes gone overboard and been very unpleasant for some of us, we are grappling with this because democracy is a very difficult issue.
 
Anna Soubry
The hon. Lady may well be right. I am trying to find solutions. I am trying to find a way to get the best solution for everybody in our country, while put the economy at the heart of this.

The joy of remaining in the EEA, and indeed in EFTA, is that it is a model sitting on the shelf that can be taken down, dusted off and perhaps tweaked here and there. The benefit for the great British people is that—hallelujah!—the job will pretty much be done, and it will enable our Government to get on with the great domestic issues that we must address. It certainly means there will be a “Hoorah!” right across businesses in this country, because it will give them the certainty and the continuity for which they are desperate, and it will deliver economic benefits. There is not much else to say, but if it is pressed to a Division, I will certainly vote for new clause 22.