Leaving the EU

Jim Shannon Excerpts
Monday 14th January 2019

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Westminster Hall
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Exiting the European Union
Tommy Sheppard Portrait Tommy Sheppard - Hansard
14 Jan 2019, 6:07 p.m.

I understand that. The same is true of the Backbench Business Committee, which has no control over when it can schedule debates; it has to work within times that are given to it. Nevertheless, I am raising this issue so that the Petitions Committee might consider it and make representations to whoever is in control of the schedule, to point out the problems that we are having. We can make jokes about it, but if this continues I think there will come a point when the public ask, “Are these petitions really being taken seriously enough by Members of Parliament?”

My second point is not a major one, but I am not sure about the efficacy of lumping petitions together in a oner for consideration. I know that it would take more time if we did not do that. However, although the petitions that we are discussing appear to be alternatives to each other, we cannot necessarily test the pros and cons of each by reference to people who have petitioned on a completely different matter. I think we ought not to aggregate such matters. We should not simply make the assumption that anybody who signs a petition about Brexit will be happy and content to have their concerns considered in conjunction with those of anybody else who signs a petition about Brexit, which may come from a completely different perspective.

I will move on to the substance of the debate. I am against Brexit, my party is against Brexit and Scotland voted against Brexit, so I think people know where I stand. I am not into “Project Fear”; I had enough of “Project Fear” in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. I do not suggest that the world will end if Brexit goes ahead on 29 March. In fact, I do not even think that it will be that big a historical event, apart from the significance of the date, in terms of what materially happens.

I think that the most horrible thing about this process is that we will enter a process of slow, insidious grinding down of living standards, and with that will come a grinding down of the hope and optimism of the country and a fuelling of many of the sentiments that led to the vote in 2016. My concern is that we are about to commit a degree of national self-harm that we could avoid; it is entirely self-inflicted.

Having said that, all that we can summate from the petitions that we are considering today is that opinion is divided. The big question now: what are we going to do to take this process forward, knowing that the country is divided, knowing that Parliament is divided and knowing that it is very, very difficult to try to chart a course through?

I turn to the question of whether there should be another referendum on the question. I do not think that we should put the same question again, but I do think that there are circumstances in which it is legitimate to go back to the people and consult them further. We cannot do so every day, but in a democracy people have the right to change their minds. Particularly when one decision has created a process and led to things that were not anticipated, people have the right to be consulted again.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP) - Hansard
14 Jan 2019, 6:10 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman referred to optimism, and the optimism of the 17.4 million people who voted to leave cannot be ignored. I respect his comments. He and I probably disagree on many things, including this issue, but does he not agree that a second referendum would, by its very nature, be divisive and, unfortunately, engineer more disquiet and anger among the people by totally ignoring the referendum of June 2016, when 17.4 million people said, “We want to leave”? Let us honour that.

Tommy Sheppard Portrait Tommy Sheppard - Hansard
14 Jan 2019, 6:10 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman has pre-empted me. I will come on to those precise points, so bear with me.

In a democracy, people have the right to change their minds, but we cannot provide procedures for them to do that every day, every week, every month or even every year. There are, however, circumstances in which it is legitimate to revisit the question. I would set three tests. The first is: has the information on which the original decision was made changed significantly? In this case, it has. Far more information is available now than was available three years ago, and some of the promises that were made appear, even to those who proposed them, not to be possible to deliver. Secondly, have people changed their mind on the subject by an extent significant enough to suggest that the result would be different were the question asked again? Thirdly, has the legislature—the Parliament—that is charged with the responsibility of executing the decision of a referendum proved unwilling or unable to do so? I contend that the first two of those tests have been met and the third will be met tomorrow night, when the Government’s proposal crashes and burns.

Break in Debate

Tommy Sheppard Portrait Tommy Sheppard - Hansard
14 Jan 2019, 6:12 p.m.

I do not know about trusting opinion polls, but they are clearly evidence that people have changed their mind. Yes, 17.4 million people voted in a certain way three years ago, but the aggregate of opinion polls suggests that a significant number of them have changed their mind. We have ignored, up to now, the 48% who did not go along with the proposition, and we are in danger of not only continuing to ignore them but denying the possibility that people might have changed their minds, and ignoring the fact that they have.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon - Hansard
14 Jan 2019, 6:12 p.m.

Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Tommy Sheppard Portrait Tommy Sheppard - Hansard
14 Jan 2019, 6:13 p.m.

I will give way one more time, but I am anxious not to labour the point for long.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon - Hansard
14 Jan 2019, 6:13 p.m.

In my constituency, people voted 56% to 44% to leave. Over the holiday period, I made it my business to talk to my constituents in fishing, farming, business and ordinary life, and opinion is hardening in relation to leaving the EU. That is happening in my constituency, and I am sure it is happening in others.

Tommy Sheppard Portrait Tommy Sheppard - Hansard
14 Jan 2019, 6:19 p.m.

I have no reason to gainsay what the hon. Gentleman says about his constituency. Likewise, in my constituency the direction is the other way. Current polling in Scotland suggests that while 62% voted to remain three years ago, if the vote were held today the figure would probably be more than 70%. That can be played either way.

The point is that not only is public opinion fundamentally divided, but there is a churn in that opinion and people are anxious to discuss and to be consulted on the matter again. Some of the arguments that have been made against that are disturbing. Over the weekend, for example, the Prime Minister said that it was ridiculous for people to ask for a second vote, and that if the UK Parliament overturned a referendum result in Wales or Scotland, people would be outraged. Of course, it was quickly pointed out that she had voted in this Parliament to overturn the referendum result in Wales, but my concern is about Scotland.

The Prime Minister’s comparison is a false one, because the 2014 vote in Scotland was to secede from the United Kingdom. Asking what would happen if the United Kingdom Parliament were to overturn the vote of the Scottish electorate is no comparison at all. The comparison would be to ask, “What would it be like if people had voted in a UK-wide referendum to leave the European Union and the EU then decided that they couldn’t?” No one would suggest that that was in any way—[Interruption.] Hon. Members may laugh, but no one surely suggests that the EU is either trying, or has the legal ability, to prevent the United Kingdom from leaving.