Leaving the EU Debate

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Department: Cabinet Office
Monday 5th October 2020

(3 years, 7 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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John Howell Portrait John Howell (Henley) (Con)
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It is a great pleasure to be here. In fact, it is such a pleasure that this is the second debate in a row that I have stayed for. I was down to speak in the first debate and when Mr Speaker’s Trainbearer said, “Do you want to speak in the second one?” I thought, “Yes, I might as well get my Westminster Hall score back up.” In the original referendum—gosh, that was so many years ago—I was somebody who voted remain. When I looked at these petitions—the ones to halt Brexit for a public inquiry, extend the transition, and look at foreign interference—my first reaction was one of utter exasperation. To see that covid was mentioned as the excuse for doing these just defied belief.

There is an organisation in Europe that is far more liberal, in the best sense of the word, and far more open to ideas coming in. That is the Council of Europe. It is also almost twice the size of the EU. Has covid stopped its work? Does covid mean that nobody does any monitoring of the appalling human rights situations that exist in certain countries? I am the rapporteur for Turkey in the Council of Europe, and we are holding—it is difficult—inquiries on Zoom with non-governmental organisations in Turkey to make sure that we understand what the Turkish Government are up to, and to say no to them. So the idea that covid is responsible for this is for the birds. It does not hold any water at all. It is a bit of a cheek, actually, to put all three motions together, particularly given the legal bar on extending the transition. Why on earth we should halt Brexit, I have no idea. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher) that it is time to move on, and that is exactly what I want to do. I do not want to sit in this place for another three or four years debating Brexit. I have had enough of that. I had enough of that in the last Parliament, and I do not want to go through it again. The country made that decision spectacularly, and I am not going to do that.

But I would raise one issue: the difficulty that we have of conducting these negotiations in open session. Every negotiation is conducted in open session, with people briefing journalists on either side as we go through. The reason for that is that there is a fundamental problem with the dispute resolution mechanism set up when the withdrawal agreement was agreed in the first place. All the effort in that agreement was down to arbitration, which is not an enclosed area. It should not have been straight into arbitration. They should have had, first of all, a process of mediation which is incredibly discreet. Anyone who has been through a commercial mediation will know that they should not blab to a journalist or anyone else about what is happening during that mediation. If I were doing this again—not that I did it, but if we were going through it again—I would strongly recommend that the Government go for mediation. Of course, it is not in the interests of the EU to do that; it does not understand the concept very well.

That is really all I want to say about this, except for one thing. The hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mike Hill) mentioned the amount that the leave campaign that was fined. The first organisation to be fined for not keeping the proper accounts and not declaring the right amount was the Liberal Democrats, who were fined £18,000 by the Electoral Commission.