Leaving the EU

Geraint Davies Excerpts
Monday 14th January 2019

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Department for Exiting the European Union
Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union (Kwasi Kwarteng) - Hansard
14 Jan 2019, 4 p.m.

I said to myself, I think about halfway through the debate, that I would keep my remarks brief, because we have had an extensive debate, we have had excellent speeches, and frankly we have rehearsed many of these points—

Geraint Davies Portrait Geraint Davies (in the Chair) - Hansard

May I say that you have only 45 minutes?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng - Hansard
14 Jan 2019, 4 p.m.

I am fully aware of the timescale. You are lucky, Mr Davies, that my hour-long speech will have to be curtailed. I wanted to make brief remarks because many of these points have been rehearsed at length in debates gone by, and I am sure that they will be in the future.

I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) introduced the debate on behalf of the Petitions Committee. He read out the petitions and the views of hundreds of thousands of people. It was striking, as he pointed out, that all those viewpoints were, essentially, contradictory. There is a full and wide range of opinion in the country—as evidenced by the petitions—as there are divergent views in the House of Commons. In the Chamber today, with only about nine MPs, we have a wide range of views. We have people who support Brexit but do not like the deal, people who support Brexit but do like the deal, and people who do not like the deal and do not like Brexit. The permutations seem endless, and that is with only nine MPs.

I want to make it clear that that degree of divergence in view—the very different opinions expressed right across the country—shows the level of confusion that there might well be if this exercise of Brexit is not concluded in an orderly fashion. As one would expect, my view, and that of the Government, is that the best way of delivering Brexit in a timely, orderly manner is through the deal in the withdrawal agreement. It is not true to say that it does not deliver Brexit. That is a grotesque exaggeration and caricature of the deal.

I fought very hard alongside many MPs, some of whom are in the Chamber, for Brexit in 2016. I was very clear about the three things that I wanted from Brexit. I wanted to see a drastic curtailment, if not an end, to the club membership—the £10 billion net a year that we were paying indefinitely, and that would have increased as we entered a new budget period. The deal completely prevents that. There is no £39 billion figure in the agreement. That is a snapshot, or a shorthand expression.

It is a lot of money, but it actually equates to only four years of net payments. We were in the EU, or the European Economic Community, for 46 years. Everyone understands that to leave such a commitment—to leave that union after such a long period of membership—will take time. The deal recognises that. It curtails the length of the implementation period. It curtails the money. The £39 billion figure is often quoted, but that is against £10 billion every year from today until kingdom come.

Importantly, one of the big issues in the Brexit referendum was freedom of movement from the EU. Many people, particularly among ethnic minority communities, were saying, “How is it that someone from the EU who speaks no English at all can come to Britain without a job, while my relatives from Commonwealth countries outside the EU do not have that opportunity?” Many others in my constituency, including builders and people working in construction, also mentioned freedom of movement. I remember coming out of Staines station and meeting someone who said that he would vote for Brexit because he had not had a wage increase for 15 years. A clever economist might say that that was simplistic, but that was the view—that was how people felt that their professional experience was developing. Freedom of movement was a big issue.

The withdrawal agreement—the deal that we need to vote on—is not perfect; like any deal in history, it includes some give and take. However, it substantially delivers on putting an end to freedom of movement, and that is why we are introducing an immigration Bill. As I recall, the third big issue in the campaign was about the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice: would it continue to be sovereign over this Parliament? On that issue, too, the withdrawal agreement delivers. It is a good deal, and it largely delivers on what we campaigned for as Brexiteers.

I say to my Brexit colleagues, as the Prime Minister said in her speech today in Stoke, that there is a marked and strong current of opinion in the House of Commons that wants to subvert or reverse Brexit. I know that those are strong words, and people will say, “Oh, we just want to scrutinise legislation.” Forget all that—it is clear to a child that there are MPs in this House who want to reverse the referendum. They have openly said that the referendum result was a disaster and have pledged to overturn it, but they know that the only way that they can do that is by means of a second referendum. It is not that they like the idea of a second referendum because they want to test the robustness of the decision or celebrate the exercise of democracy, but that the way to reverse Brexit is very clear: it has to be done through a second referendum, to give it the authority that the first had. I do not know about our Scottish National party friends, but it would take a very bold remainer to say that the House of Commons could simply unilaterally disregard the referendum.

If one wants to stay in the EU, one has to accept that the only way of doing so is with a second referendum. Hon. Members who sit on the Conservative Benches or who represent leave constituencies have detected a hardening of public opinion, however. As a Member who represents a leave constituency, I concur: even if a second referendum took place, I do not believe that the remainers would get their wish. Nevertheless, I fully understand that that is their only shot—their only conduit to reversing something that they think is a disaster—so it is the route they want to pursue. The Government’s view is that that would be wholly disruptive, divisive and simply a cheat, because it would be an attempt to circumvent the decision.

The vast majority of Members of this House voted to have the referendum, voted to trigger article 50 and voted to pass the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. Let us be under no illusions: the debate on a second referendum is simply about trying to reverse the result of the first. The Government simply cannot accept that. We want to move forward and conclude Brexit in an orderly and managed fashion—I was almost going to say an elegant fashion, but I think that that would be pushing things too far.

Break in Debate

Andrea Jenkyns Portrait Andrea Jenkyns - Hansard
14 Jan 2019, 7:03 p.m.

It takes a lot for somebody who has always been loyal to the party over the past decade or so—and since I have been a Member—to vote against the Government. I have never done so, like many of my colleagues who have resigned as Parliamentary Private Secretaries. Let us not forget that it is the remain colleagues in our party who have been thwarting Brexit and who have voted against the Government so far. To return to my previous point, you have not provided the House with a deal that actually represents Brexit. So many constituents have written to me to say, “Please vote that deal down”. It is you, the Government and the Prime Minister who have done the job of uniting Conservative Members against your deal.

Geraint Davies Portrait Geraint Davies (in the Chair) - Hansard
14 Jan 2019, 7:03 p.m.

Just to clarify, obviously it is not me.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng - Hansard
14 Jan 2019, 7:04 p.m.

I urge the hon. Lady and her Brexiteer colleagues to vote for the deal. I am not speaking as a Government Minister but as a Brexiteer, and my real worry is that Brexit will be abandoned because the Brexiteers are divided.

I am a historian and someone who loves reading about history. There are countless examples of situations where people have won what they were fighting for and then simply fallen out—there have been divisions. That is a very grave danger for Brexit: having won the argument and the referendum in 2016, we see the Brexit side quite fractured. As a Brexiteer, I support the deal. My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam, as a Brexiteer, supports the deal. Yet there are other Brexiteers here in Westminster Hall, not to mention in the wider House of Commons, who support Brexit but feel that they cannot support the deal. I urge all Brexiteers, and remainers who want to see their manifesto commitments fulfilled—the entire Labour party, according to its manifesto—to vote for the deal in order to move forward. Any other outcome, as a result of voting down the deal, would add to the chaos and confusion, and it would imperil Brexit.

Thank you very much for your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I thank all hon. Members for their excellent contributions to this very high-quality debate.