David Burrowes backs the Bill to trigger Article 50, respecting the decisive result on 23 June last year and enabling the Government to formally start the process of leaving the EU.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), whose speech was, as ever, impressive, principled and considered.
Today’s debate is to my mind about a straightforward decision that will mean that our country embarks on a necessary but inevitably complex journey to leave the European Union. As has been mentioned, this legislation is about the process. It is not a substantive Bill about the merits or otherwise of leaving the European Union—that was for the referendum debates—and nor is it about the future deal that will come later in future legislation. It can be summed up in a few words, such as “respect the will of the people” and “respect the result of the referendum”. However, I have a good reason for adding a few more words during today’s debate.
I represent a constituency and borough that voted heavily to remain in the European Union. In Enfield, 76,000 people voted to remain, while 60,000 voted to leave. In my constituency only 37% voted to leave while 63% voted to remain. Among Brexiteers, I have the largest percentage of remain voters; after the Richmond Park by-election, The Daily Telegraph helpfully pointed out that I could be next in the firing line, although I will be avoiding a by-election if I can help it.
Inevitably, I have received many representations from constituents urging me to vote against the Bill and follow the example of Members such as the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms): to do what the majority of their constituents voted to do and to follow their consciences. However, it will be no surprise that I will not be following that course. I want to explain why and to urge hon. Members, particularly those representing remain-voting constituencies, to join me in the Aye Lobby tomorrow evening.
It should not surprise my constituents that I support the Bill. In 2015, following up our manifesto commitment to hold a referendum, I made it clear that unless we controlled our borders I would be campaigning to leave the European Union. When the then Prime Minister returned with his deal, he was unable properly to answer my questions in the House such as how he could reconcile the inadequate controls on freedom of movement in the deal with my expectations and those of countless party workers and supporters over a number of years. Emblazoned on our leaflets was our party’s commitment to control our borders. We need to follow through on that commitment.
Brexit gives us the opportunity to regain control of our borders—not in the way President Trump is pursuing, which is a thinly veiled attempt to discriminate against Muslims and involves offensive nationality profiling, which must be strongly condemned at all levels. I look forward to control of our borders that is more, not less, welcoming of the skills that we most need in our country, and more, not less, welcoming of the refugees who need our sanctuary most. Of course, I also look forward to Parliament’s regaining control of our laws and our money as well.
The wider concern of my constituents was that politicians should do what they say. I am doing what I said I would do: I am voting out of a matter of conscience, judgment and duty to trigger article 50. My vote is not just about my constituency; it is about what Parliament intended in the UK referendum. The European Union Referendum Act 2015 gave us the legal authority for the historic referendum result. The intention of Parliament was undeniably that the result should be respected and enacted; the majority in favour of the Bill was huge, at 10 to one. During deliberations on the referendum Bill, the issue was about ensuring that the campaign was fair to enable confidence in the result. There were a few concerns that the referendum was unclear or unfair. It was mainly left to the Brexiteers and, indeed, the Scottish National party to lead the scrutiny to ensure that the purdah period was not misused. However, the leaflet, costing £9 million of taxpayers’ money, was still sent out to convince the public of the merits of remaining in the European Union. The most important words on that leaflet were:
“This is your decision. The Government will implement what you decide.”
During the deliberations on the European Union Referendum Act, few really questioned the legitimacy or finality of the decision. We knew what we were getting ourselves into, providing an act of direct democracy to the British people to make a decision on the important question of European Union membership. It is important to recognise that that view came from all sources and many parties in the House. The leader of the Liberal Democrats, the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), said at the time that it was a once-in-a-lifetime decision—no word of a second referendum from him, then.
The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), who is not in place, also said on the BBC last year that this House
“is a place of great pomposity, a lot of wasted words”,
and that it is “more theatre” than it is any good. Does my hon. Friend agree that this House and the express will of the British people deserve better than haughty disdain from the Liberals?
Order. As there are many interventions, they need to be short.
I recognise those words spoken by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mims Davies). This is all about restoring our parliamentary sovereignty and the authority of our Parliament. There is an absence of respect for this House on the Opposition Benches, and it speaks volumes.
The then Europe Minister, who is now the Leader of the House, is in his place. At the end of the deliberations on the European Union Referendum Act, he said that the package would ensure a referendum
“in which the whole country can have confidence.”—[Official Report, 7 September 2015; Vol. 599, c. 117.]
The right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) said that the referendum is a mechanism for the British people to make a judgment, but that
“the really important thing is the decision itself.”—[Official Report, 9 June 2015; Vol. 596, c. 1063.]
A decision has now been made and we must respect it. It was not an advisory survey, but a mandated decision.
As the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) said in his very considered speech today, the result of the referendum, whether we like it or not, must be respected. The current Chancellor of the Exchequer, my right hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr Hammond), said that
“the decision about our membership should be taken by the British people, not by Whitehall bureaucrats, certainly not by Brussels Eurocrats; not even by Government Ministers or parliamentarians in this Chamber. The decision must be for the common sense of the British people. That is what we pledged, and that is what we have a mandate to deliver.”—[Official Report, 9 June 2015; Vol. 596, c. 1056.]
Well, the decision has been made and we now have a duty to deliver by formally starting the process.
What should hon. Members with majority remain constituents such as mine do? On this occasion, I would follow the advice of the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), who said that
“17 million people voted for Leave, many in some of our poorest areas. How would it look if a bunch of politicians and commentators in London turned around and said, ‘We know you voted to leave but we are just going to ignore you.’ That would be very undermining of democracy.”
I agree with her; we must not undermine democracy.
My remain-voting constituents are not being ignored by my voting to trigger article 50—my solemn duty is to respect the will of the majority throughout the UK—but I will continue to respect their concerns and challenges, and to bring them to Ministers’ attention. I recognise that their concerns have to be heard.
I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman’s analysis. I will vote to invoke article 50 because of that respect for democracy. He mentioned heeding the views of the remain voters in his area, so does he believe that we should have a meaningful vote on the deal, and not a yes or no rejection of it?
I agree, and there is a commitment to that. Once the negotiations have happened, we should have a full debate and a full vote. I will ensure that my constituents’ concerns—whether remain or Brexit—all come to bear so that we deliver for our country. That is what it is about. Now is not the time or place to sidestep the decisive result on 23 June, nor to undermine the decision of 17 million people. Let us get on with it and make the best of Brexit for all my constituents and for people throughout the United Kingdom.
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