Full text of Henry Smith MP's speech in the House of Commons Debate on a Motion relating to the UK's withdrawal from the EU on 14th February 2019.
Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con)
It is a pleasure to be called to speak in this important EU withdrawal debate, particularly after so many impassioned speeches from those on the Front and Back Benches.
Almost exactly three years ago, it was confirmed that the EU membership referendum would take place in June 2016, and it is now more than two and a half years since the referendum took place. In my constituency, the vote to leave the European Union was 58%, and across the country it was 52%. Since then, as the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) said, there has been a general election in 2017, when 589 now elected Members of this House stood on a manifesto commitment to deliver the result of the referendum.
The message I get is as follows. Just the other day, I was walking down Tilgate shopping parade in my constituency, and as is typically the case, someone came up to me and wanted to know about the current Brexit debate in Parliament. They said, “Why aren’t we getting on with the decision we made two and a half years ago?” That is a compelling argument.
We have heard this afternoon calls for a so-called people’s vote. I would argue that we had a people’s vote in 2016. We have also heard calls for an extension of article 50, to delay our departure from the European Union. We have heard from those Members concern about the uncertainty of Brexit. The one thing that will maintain uncertainty is questioning the democratic decision that was taken by holding a second referendum. That would certainly do a lot to damage our democracy and prolong uncertainty, as would a delay to article 50, and that is before we even get into the issues of whether the remaining 27 members of the EU would allow article 50 to be extended and, if article 50 were to be extended beyond July, of EU elections.
Mention has been made of how we should be taking no deal off the table. I have never known a negotiation where one party goes in and says that they are not willing to walk away from that negotiation. [Interruption.] I hear some jeering from Opposition Members, many of whom are sponsored by trade unions. I cannot imagine a trade union going into a negotiation with an employer and saying in those negotiations that it would not be willing to strike.
Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East) (Lab)
The problem with this “walk away” analogy is that in any other negotiation when someone walks away, the status quo applies. That is not the case here: when we walk away from this, a whole new and terribly damaging set of new things comes into force. That is why this analogy with a business deal is so fatuous, ridiculous and wrong.
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for mentioning the status quo, because I do not think the status quo of remaining inside the European Union is good for this country. The European Union is increasingly a protectionist bloc. The European Union is not outward and global in its approach. This country, with its unique global links, can use them to have a much more positive future, instead of locking itself into the ever closer union that is producing a democratic deficit at the heart of the EU, not to mention things such as a European army.
Mr Alister Jack (Dumfries and Galloway) (Con)
My hon. Friend very clearly makes the point that we did not vote for the status quo. It is quite clear: 17.4 million people voted to leave. Does he agree with me that the inevitable outcome, if we do not have a deal, is no deal? That is not the status quo.
I think people in this country have rejected the status quo, and I see Brexit as an opportunity for wider constitutional reform in relation to devolving power, fundamentally changing the way the other place works fundamentally and many other aspects. People wanted change. Actually, I think throughout Europe—throughout many EU member states—there is a real desire for change. If we do not respect the democratic decision, then some of the civil unrest we have seen on the streets of Paris, Lyon and Marseille, some of the economic contraction we see in Germany and the crisis in countries such as Italy will be visited on this country.
Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con)
My hon. Friend is making a typically powerful speech. Can he think of anything more craven than for Members of this House to vote one day to trigger article 50 and then to say two years later, “Oh, we didn’t mean to do that. We need to carry on”? Is that not just craven and, frankly, pathetic?
We have seen significant majorities both in favour of leaving the European Union, in that about 80% of Members of Parliament elected at the last general election said they would follow through on it—
Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con)
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I do not have any time; I do apologise.
Actually, yes, I will give way very briefly.
Can my hon. Friend remind us of the promises made by the leave campaign, which he supported? It repeatedly said that we would not leave the European Union until a trade deal securing our future trading relationship with the EU had been secured. Does he remember such broken promises?
I never made that promise when I supported leaving the European Union. I believe that a deal is the best way forward, but let us not forget that the vast majority of right hon. and hon. Members voted in favour of the legislation to leave the European Union on 29 March, and if no deal is the result, that is the default position.
Vicky Ford (Chelmsford) (Con)
I thank my hon. Friend for reminding us of what was said in the past. The Conservative party manifesto that I stood on in 2017 stated clearly that we would seek a deep and special partnership with the EU, including a new free trade agreement and a customs agreement. Does my hon. Friend still stand by that promise?
Yes, we absolutely should be seeking and honouring a deep and close relationship with our neighbours and allies in Europe, but the trouble with a customs union, which Labour Members advocate, is that it would prevent us from doing the global free trade deals that, in a world that is getting smaller, are key to our prosperity. The key to this country’s future prosperity is our unique global links, and being a conduit for that thanks to our proximity to Europe. We must be robust in the ongoing negotiations, and I support the Prime Minister in continuing them. I have never known an EU negotiation that did not go down to the last moment, and I therefore remain optimistic about our future. For goodness’ sake, we should be more optimistic as a House and country, because our best years are ahead.