Leaving the EU DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Kwasi KwartengMain Page: Kwasi Kwarteng (Conservative) - Spelthorne)
Department Debates - View all Kwasi Kwarteng's debates with the Department for Exiting the European Union
I anticipated that intervention, and the hon. Gentleman will anticipate my response. I said that we would waste no time. I am not going to share with him exactly the way in which that decision will unfold.
I hope that Government Members might recognise at that point that a general election would be a way of resolving the issue, but I recognise that they might not, after their experience last June. I say to those who have signed petitions for a second referendum—we have debated similar petitions previously, and at much greater length—that at that point, if there is to be a general election, we will look at all the options available, including a further referendum.
In that context, it is profoundly irresponsible of the Prime Minister to go around the country rallying the people against Parliament, for the Foreign Secretary to attack the Speaker of the House of Commons in the way that he did on Friday, or for the Transport Secretary to say that if the Prime Minister’s deal is not accepted it will lead to a
“less tolerant society, a more nationalistic nation…open…to extremist populist political forces”.
Their efforts would have been better spent condemning those who are driving intolerance within our politics, and presenting a united front against that sort of extremism. Briefings to the Sunday papers about a coup in Parliament are clearly intended to set voters against MPs, but we in this place should not allow Parliament to be intimidated.
The truth is that there are no easy choices facing us over the next few weeks, and there are probably no good outcomes. We have to make the best of where we are. Those are the difficulties that Parliament is grappling with. We need calm heads. We should not be ramping up the rhetoric, but should recognise the consequences of all the choices that we face. That is what the Opposition are committed to doing, in the interests of all the people we represent.
If the Minister is so convinced that he and the Brexiteers, as he calls them, would win a second referendum, why is he so scared of letting the people have a say?
I agree completely with the Minister’s point about the motivation for a second referendum, but some of the people who want to subvert the 2016 referendum result have another string to their bow: attrition. By extending article 50, they want to extend the whole process until the House or the public should get weary of it. Will the Minister give us an assurance that under no circumstances will the Government introduce a statutory instrument that changes the date for leaving the European Union that was set in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act?
The reason we are likely to go through the same Lobby is, quite frankly, because the Government have failed to listen time and again. Behind closed doors we have all been having meetings with the Whip and the Prime Minister and expressing our concerns for months, but they have fallen on deaf ears. With respect, it is no wonder that we are in this situation, because the Government have put a bad deal to the House.
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.
Just to clarify, obviously it is not me.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the second half of the debate, Mr Davies. I thank the Minister for his excellent speech, and I thank everybody for their interesting and informative contributions, which have been made in such a constructive, passionate and respectful way. We have had a lot of passion running high around the country and there has been harassment and bullying from both sides. My right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), my hon. Friends the Members for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) and for Morley and Outwood (Andrea Jenkyns) and others have suffered harassment, bullying and worse. It is possible to engage constructively, passionately and respectfully with people with polar opposite views.
When I was on platforms arguing for Brexit, people said to me, “Well, what does your Brexit look like?” I would say, “Actually, I can tell you what mine looks like, but that precludes you from having any say in it whatsoever if that’s how it’s going to be. We need to debate this and discuss it.” A number of people said, “Well, if only it was like the Common Market rather than the extra bits we have had over the last 20 years.” Ironically, the original Chequers White Paper was closer to the Common Market. It is important to remember that this deal is not even Chequers—a lot of that comes in the second half of the negotiations.
We know that a referendum is unlikely to resolve anything. We cannot agree on the question, the timetable or even how we would approach it in this place, so I cannot see how a referendum would work. Revoking article 50 because people find Brexit too difficult—they put it in the “too difficult” box—is not something that people will live with in this country. The thing that has saddened me in this House over the past couple of years is its paucity of ambition for our country to take what will be good about Brexit, whether that be reclaiming control or future trading arrangements. We know there will be difficulties to get to that place in the next few months, but I am confident and optimistic that we can do that. The Minister was absolutely right to say that there are two sides and one is going to be wrong: it will lose, and what happens will be the diametric opposite of what they want.
I will not be a heroic loser. If I am wrong and have blinked too early, I will be the first to shake hands with my colleagues who have spoken. I want to ensure that we leave the EU in an orderly fashion, and I thank everyone again.
Question put and agreed to.
That the House has considered e-petitions 229963, 221747 and 235185 relating to leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement, 232984 and 231461 relating to holding a further referendum on leaving the EU, and 226509 and 236261 relating to not leaving the EU.