Parliamentary Scrutiny of Leaving the EU: 12th October 2016

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con)
I start by saying that I wholly endorse and support the wise words of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan). I also wholly endorse and support the wise words of my new friend, the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband). Before anybody listening to this speech or reading about it elsewhere has a problem with that, I should also agree with the short intervention made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve).

Get real. We are living in extraordinary times, and incredible things have happened. Who would have believed a year ago that we would be here having this debate after all that has taken place? Increasingly, and rightly, many of us will now be taking a cross-party approach to these issues. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield said, as we leave the EU—I accept the verdict, the referendum result—we face difficult, dangerous times. Putting our country and the interests of all our constituents first transcends everything, and that includes the normal party political divide.

I pay handsome tribute also to the wise speech—except for when it got partisan—made by the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer). I agree with him. We are in difficult, dangerous times and we tread with great care. As he rightly said, there was one question on that ballot paper and it is wrong to assume that a whole series of mandates flow from that one simple and straightforward question. With great respect to the Prime Minister, her Cabinet and all those in government, we are using the answer to that question as an excuse for other mandates. That is simply wrong.

I am concerned about the extrapolation—a new buzzword, perhaps—that involves our just saying, “Oh well—52% of the British people apparently voted for controls on immigration.” The hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) mentioned people concerned about immigration. She should tread carefully. When people said they were concerned about immigration, I suspect that what they were really asking for was not control—that might make it go up—but less immigration.

I gently say to the hon. Lady that we have to be true to what we believe in. It is so important that, in the debate now unfolding about immigration, we are brave and true to what we believe in and take people on. My right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough and I stood in Loughborough market on the day of the referendum and had that debate, but the tragedy was that by that time it was too late. The British people at heart are good and tolerant; if we make the debate, they will understand the huge benefit that migration has brought to our country for centuries.

Kwasi Kwarteng
I agree with many of the things my right hon. Friend has said about immigration, but did she not stand in 2015 and, I believe, in 2010 on a clear Conservative party manifesto commitment to reduce net immigration to tens of thousands?

Anna Soubry
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I accept what he says, but let me say here and now that we have to abandon that target; we cannot keep it. We know the reality: people come here to work. In simple ​terms, Sir, who is going to do the jobs of those people who come here? There seems to be some nonsensical idea that, with a bit of upskilling here and a bit of upskilling there, we will replace the millions and millions of people who come and work not just in those low-skilled jobs, but right the way through to the highest levels of research and development—the great entrepreneurs. We should be singing out about this great country of ours; we should be making it clear that we are open for business and that we are open to people, as we always have been, because they contribute to our country in not only economic but cultural terms. We are in grave danger if we extrapolate in a way that I believe is not at the core of being British.

Emma Reynolds
I agree with a lot of what the right hon. Lady has said, and I made the same arguments to people during the referendum campaign. All I would say is that there is a spectrum here; there is a space between no free movement and free movement in its entirety. I am not arguing for no European immigration—I think these people have made great contributions to our country—but I do think we need to look at restrictions in some sectors and some areas. I think that would be respecting the mandate.

Anna Soubry
I am not going to demur from what the hon. Lady says.

What all this really proves is the absolute need for this place to do what the motion and the Government amendment say, which is to have these debates as we go forward, to shape our new relationship with Europe. All these issues have to be debated, so I fully agree with everything that has been said, and I will go one step further: the more I hear, and the more I think about this and listen to the learned and wise words of people such as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield, the more I am coming to the perhaps very quick conclusion that this place must vote on article 50. I really think that it is imperative that we do that.

In the short time that is available to me, I just want to add one thing. We do not come here just to have these rather esoterical debates. A lot of people listening to this debate might think that, yet again, this is politicians talking in terms and in ways that do not relate to what is really happening out there in the real world. What is happening out there in the real world is that British business is in a very difficult and serious predicament. We have heard about the value of the pound, which is at this record 30-year low. What does that mean? It means that a friend of mine sent me a text last night to say that her small business is now on the verge of going under—that is the reality of what is happening. It means that a great company such as Freshcut Foods in my constituency is seeing its best EU workers leaving; they feel, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough says, that they have no place here. People are finding, as the University of Nottingham has said to me, that they can no longer recruit. The university has lost some of its best academics because those people no longer feel welcome and valued in our country. I am sorry, but it has to be said: we should be hanging our heads in shame that that is the feeling of real people—real constituents of mine—and I will continue to speak out on their behalf.

Heidi Allen (South Cambridgeshire) (Con)
Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Anna Soubry
I cannot. I am so sorry.

I also want to say this, because it is really important. We talk about wanting to build a consensus, and Members such as the right hon. Member for Doncaster North have said that if we want to build a consensus, we will have to bring in the 48% who voted for us to remain in the European Union. I do not agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) when he said that they were rejecting the European Union. Absolute nonsense! They were positively voting for our membership of the European Union, and that included membership of the single market and free movement of workers. We ignore those brave, good people at our great peril, but so many of them feel that they have been forgotten. They are invariably abused on social media. I have no difficulty in standing here and saying that I will not give up on the 48%, and I will go further. I think there is a real movement now among many people who voted leave; as Brexit unravels, and they see the reality of that referendum result, many are regretting their vote, and there is a good chance that the 48% may in due course actually become the majority.

Finally, I say gently to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), that there is a real danger in our country. Some 75% of young voters voted remain, and many of them feel that an older generation has robbed them of their future. Our job is to make sure that everybody is involved and we get the best deal for everybody in our country as we now leave the European Union.