I spoke in Parliament during the EU Withdrawal Agreement debate. I again reiterated that I cannot support the Prime Minister’s agreement in its current form and whilst I am willing to compromise I cannot accept the proposed backstop position. Listen Here or read what I said below.
“I do not want to use my speech to talk about parliamentary procedure or the detail of the various options to withdraw from the EU—I will leave that to others to do. What I want to talk about today is trust: not trust in MPs, which the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) has just alluded to, but trust in the electorate, which my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman) spoke about.
In 1997, I, like many others, was unhappy that Tony Blair became Prime Minister, but I did not start campaigning for a people’s vote to remove him, and the same was the case in 2001 and in 2005. In fact, I think the situation was the same in 2010, 2015 and 2017, as the Opposition would have been disappointed about the outcome of the election, but they did not start campaigning for a people’s vote to overturn it. That is because we accept the results of votes in this country, and we should accept this one.
Turning to the point of this whole debate, in June 2016, the British people were given a say on our future relationship with the EU through a simple in/out referendum. We chose to leave. The numbers who voted or the margin of the majority are irrelevant; the question was put and the answer was given.
It should come as no surprise that, in a contest, some people will be disappointed. We should not dismiss their concerns; we should instead try to be as accommodating as possible. That is what people have been talking about today, but we must stay true to the referendum result—we have a duty to do so.
Does my hon. Friend accept that when Vote Leave registered, it was registering for a simple “out” vote, but said it was not binding itself to a particular form of out, and that it would be up to MPs to decide how that result was implemented?
I appreciate my hon. Friend’s intervention, but it is not for me to talk about what Vote Leave decided; it is for me to talk about what I think and what my constituents think.
Everyone in the Conservative party, including my hon. Friend, stood on the 2015 manifesto. They promised to give the British public a straightforward in/out referendum. Everyone who voted in December 2015 to legislate for that referendum did so promising to honour the result. Everyone who voted and campaigned in the referendum did so in the spirit of what had been agreed before the vote took place, and again promised to honour the result—at least I assume that they did. Can we really imagine that people were wandering around campaigning for in or for out, but saying to their constituents and friends, “Whatever happens, if we don’t win, we’ll just renege on the result”? Of course they did not do that; they campaigned saying they would honour the result. Everyone in here who voted to trigger article 50 and everyone in here who voted to pass—[Interruption.] I am not saying that everyone here voted in that way. I am talking about everyone who did vote in that way—[Interruption.] If Members listen, they can intervene on me. Everyone in the Chamber who voted to trigger article 50 and who voted to pass the European Union (Withdrawal) Act did so because at that time they were doing what they promised their electorate they would do.
In 2017, both two major parties stood on manifestos that promised to honour the result. In my constituency, the Conservative and Labour candidates shared 93% of the vote. Two parties that promised to honour the result of the referendum shared almost the entire vote while all the other parties lost their deposits. Almost every Conservative and Labour Member has promised to deliver Brexit at one time or another. At the time, those who supported remain accepted the wording of the referendum. At no time did they say that the result needed to have a particular majority, or that the consequences needed to be spelled out. Why was that? Quite obviously it was because the remain voters thought they would win. I thought they would win, even though I campaigned for and voted to leave.
The country has followed this soap opera for two years. It has joined us on this journey, which began with the referendum and was followed by a prime ministerial resignation, a new Prime Minister, a general election, Lancaster House, Florence, “Brexit means Brexit”, “No deal is better than a bad deal”, a delayed vote, a vote of confidence in the Prime Minister and, finally, “This deal, no deal or no Brexit at all”. No Brexit at all is not an option. This place voted for the referendum and promised to honour the result. This place voted to trigger article 50 and, in so doing, reconfirmed to the British public that our democracy is more important than political convenience. We all accepted the terms before the campaigns started, and if Members fail to implement the result or attempt to frustrate the will of the people, they are not democrats and I have no idea why they are here.
I would like to offer some clarity for those Ministers who like to appear on the “Today” programme saying that people like me know what they do not want but not what they do want. I met the Prime Minister and I could not have been clearer to her: I want a deal but, as it stands, I do not want her deal. The Prime Minister promised to protect our precious Union. Her deal does not do that, because it treats one part of our Union differently from the other parts. So, for those who repeat that people like me know what we do not want but not what we do want, I will say it again: take the backstop out, and I will compromise again and reluctantly vote for the deal.
This has been a dark time in our nation’s history. It has laid bare the divisions in our country and, by reneging on the promises we made to the British public, we would plunge our country into an even darker place, and I would not blame the voters if they never trusted a politician again. Many of the people outside this place believe that politicians are untrustworthy. They think that we spend most of our time talking to ourselves and not caring about what they think. If we fail to honour the result of the most important vote in living memory, we will prove them right, and I will have no part in that. I made promises to my constituents and I fully intend to honour them, whatever that takes. I would rather lose my seat, honour my commitments to my constituents and preserve what integrity is left in this place than behave as so many others are, in their own self-interest.”